by Tran Quynh Hoa
Several important national strategies were approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in July. Among them were the 2011-15 plan to restructure State-owned enterprises and the 2011-20 national public-debt strategy.
Setting aside the endless problems of law enforcement, a common dilemma in the developing world, these blueprints will undoubtedly lay the ground for national development. However, the strategies, like dozens of other national and sector plans that have received the green light from the Government leader since the start of this year, actually cover the past – not the present or future.
Even to those with minimum education, the titles of the documents themselves indicate that they were made for a future period, starting from 2011. But where are we now on the time line? August 2012. So are they future or past planning?
Plans, master-plans and strategies in Viet Nam are usually issued every five or 10 years, or for now, 2011-15 or 2011-20 period. It means many of the country's important planning documents are well behind schedule when promulgated.
Meanwhile, many others, which are no less important to the country's development in the same period of time, are still in the process of being drafted and considered. As I write, the final draft of the Small-and-Medium-Sized Enterprises Development Plan for the 2011-15 period is awaiting the nod from the Prime Minister, while the 2011-20 national traffic safety plan is being studied by the Government leader's experts.
This is not to mention extra time required to issue follow-up documents instructing the implementation of the plans before they are really brought into life.
Imagine a 2011-15 strategy has just been submitted to the Prime Minister for consideration and is expected to get the nod from the Government leader at the end of this year. It will take another six months to spread out implementation instructions to local levels.
By the time the 2011-15 strategy is actually rolled out, it will already be mid-2013 – or half of the covered period has been missed. Indeed, it should be the time to start working on a 2016-20 strategy!
According to Viet Nam's law, plan and strategy-making includes many stages – establishment of a drafting committee, drafting, meetings and adjustments, approval by line ministry, feedbacks from other ministries and relevant organisations – and finally, submission to the Prime Minister for approval.
A Government source, a member of a national plan drafting committee, told me that the whole process should take more than one year to complete, but many planning projects lag behind their deadlines because of "external reasons". The official, who wished to remain anonymous, said in many cases, it took several years to have a national plan approved due to disagreements between ministries involved or the overloads at the Government Office.
"As a result, when a draft document reaches the Prime Minister, it's already out of date, and, of course, we have to do it all over again," he said.
A friend of mine, a successful businessman, said that making national strategies was undoubtedly far more complicated than working out business plans but it still depended much on input statistics and the competency of planners and forecasters.
In the field of statistics, planners are struggling to get input data. A 2010 report by the World Bank reveals that Viet Nam is trailing its neighbours in statistical capacity, which covers consistent methodologies, timeliness and accuracy. The nation ranks seventh out of nine countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (without Brunei), only ahead of East Timor and Myanmar. And its capacity is below the ASEAN, and world average.
The competency of Vietnamese planners and forecasters also poses a question. Dr Le Dinh An, former director of the National Socio-Economic Information and Forecasting Centre under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, told Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper that the weaknesses of the nation's economic planning were due to a shortage of experienced forecasters. This is probably true in all other sectors.
In a direction issued in December 2010, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung admitted that planning had yet to be given its proper priority, which resulted in "some failing plans and many plans that had to be adjusted soon after being approved".
To give national planning a boost, he required ministries and people's committees of key localities to submit the final draft of their development plans for the 2011-20 period by the end of 2011. But again, the deadline is long over and dozens of important national plans have yet to get a boarding pass.
If only strategy-makers had started earlier, given how time-consuming the process was. And if only the Prime Minister had given planners a significant push instead of just one month's notice! — VNS