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Viet Nam must start upholding the rule of law, from top to bottom

Update: March, 03/2016 - 09:19

General Le Van Cuong, former director of the Institute for Strategic Studies, spoke to the Hai quan Cuoi tuan (Weekend Customs) newspaper about improving awareness of law enforcement.

In your opinion, what are the roles of our legal system and law enforcement in the nation's socioeconomic development?

In researching the past century of world history, I have seen that developed nations have the most comprehensive legal systems in the world. They also have good law enforcement mechanisms in place.

Societies which have a comprehensive legal system and good law enforcement are strong, whether they are led by single-party or multi-party political systems.

Many people complain that law enforcement in our country is poor. How do you respond to that comment?

Adherence to the rule of law among our people is very poor – far below the average level in our geopolitical region. Among the ASEAN nations, Viet Nam ranks at the bottom when it comes to adherence to the rule of law, lower than even Laos and Cambodia.

This is one reason why Viet Nam lags behind many other nations in the region. For example, our labour productivity is low, compared to that of many Asian countries. Vietnamese labour productivity is just 1/15 of Singapore's, 1/11 of Japan's; 1/10 of South Korea's, and 1/5 of Malaysia's productivity.

Bureaucracy, corruption and waste are common in all countries. The level of such negative behaviour varies from country to country, as does the scope and nature of these problems. But for our country, these issues are rampant in all spheres of life.

In particular, poor compliance with and enforcement of the rule of law paints a gloomy picture to our traffic situation. Viet Nam is among the countries in the world with the largest number of traffic accidents.

In the present context of international integration, what might be the consequences of poor enforcement of the rule of law in Viet Nam?

Viet Nam has signed a number of Free Trade Agreements with other countries, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty (TPP).

Among the 11 countries which are signatories to the TPP, Viet Nam is the country with the lowest level of economic development and social organisation. Couple this with the national Vietnamese habit of failing to follow the rule of law, and we are now forced to focus our efforts to overcome these challenges in order to advance.

Many people point out that law enforcement is the weakest aspect of our present legal system. How do you respond to that?

There are different points of view regarding our legal system.

Some people attribute Vietnamese failure to follow the rule of law to our legal system, which is still in the process of development.

I don't agree. It is undeniable that our present legal system is still in the process of development. But, if the laws are strictly upheld, our society will fare much better.

In my opinion, the key problem is poor law enforcement, ranging from the top down to the bottom. We have all kinds of laws and resolutions. But so far these things have not been fully implemented by law enforcement officers and by the people in general.

Our incomplete legal system - coupled with our poor enforcement of laws, rules and regulations so far - has led to our weak practice of the " rule of law" principle.

What should we do to uphold the "rule of law"?

I think the 6th National Party Congress' Resolution remains a good and effective tool for us to uphold the practice of the "rule of law" nationwide.

Under the resolution, all party members and cadres should regularly practice self-evaluation and self-criticism. People in power should be role-models for others to follow, of course.

In addition, the 2013 Constitution also stipulates clearly the rights and responsibilities of the Prime Minister and his cabinet members.

Another point worth mentioning is that the mode of operation of our present legal system is utterly outdated. In other countries, in an office setting, the head office assumes chief responsibility. But in Viet Nam, it falls to collective leadership. To overcome these weaknesses, our legal system should spell out clearly the rights, responsibilities and legal accountability of the head of an office or agency. This foundation is necessary to run the country in accordance with our constitution.

Last, but not least, we need to improve the quality of leaders at all levels, while raising public awareness about the importance of upholding our laws to the letter. — VNS

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