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Intellectuals discuss PM's plans for the year

Update: February, 17/2014 - 08:58
In his message for 2014, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung emphasised the need to foster the rule of law and democracy in Viet Nam. He also stressed the importance of agriculture reforms and carrying forward the restructuring of state-owned enterprises. Thu Van and Ha Phuong discussed these issues with several officials and experts.

Nguyen Si Dung

Nguyen Si Dung, Vice Chair of the National Assembly Office: on the rule of law and democracy

I think the rule of law and democracy are inter-connected yet separate.

The rule of law is more about its supremacy: everyone has to obey laws; by laws here I mean natural laws, the laws that recognise human rights and the law that is designed to deliver justice. We can say that this law is the highest institution in society.

On the other hand, democracy is more about the power of people and the power of the majority. This also encompasses human rights, the right to freedom and the right to equality.

The rule of law is important because it protects human rights. When such rights are protected by law, it's easy for you to do your business, to achieve happiness in life. You are not dependent on the will of some authorities.

The rule of law also limits the power of the government. As the PM said in his address, people can do whatever the law does not prohibit, and the government can do only what is allowed by the law.

The area that is not prohibited by law is huge, but the area is allowed by law is limited. The rule-of-law concept implies that while the government is regulated by it, more freedom is given to people. This concept is fundamental to development.

Democracy is important and needed because it creates the right incentive for development – for the government and among the people. If power belongs to the people, they have more incentive to do better.

The rule of law protects freedom, and it protects what the market mechanism pushes: I have freedom, I am intelligent, I can make money quickly. That's not bad but when the difference between people becomes huge and inequality is very high, there is a big problem. You cannot have sustainable development if the gap between the rich and poor people is huge. In this case, the rule of law carries the risk of raising discontent among people.

Democracy can balance this. Democracy makes the government care for not only the rich but also the poor. If everyone has a vote in electing their leaders, then high-ranking officials will have to care for everybody. They have to provide justice, to make things more equitable. At one end, it does not minimise incentives for entrepreneurial people to do business, at the other end it provides the means to make life more equitable for poor people. Everyone will have a share in society.

The amended Constitution is very clear about the rule of law. In the new Constitution, for the first time, it is stipulated clearly that the State is organised and performs its functions within the framework of the Constitution and the law. For the first time, we have defined boundaries for the Government's operation.

In the amended Constitution's human rights chapter, we accept international standards on human rights, and this chapter states that human rights can be limited only by law in four cases: when national defense or security is at stake; where there is a need to ensure order and public safety; when social values and morals have to be protected; and for the sake of public health.

Another very important thing that is stipulated in the new Constitution is that State agencies should monitor each other. This is an important aspect of the rule of law. It is very difficult to limit the power of the state because it has everything: army, prisons, tanks, ships and warships. Only State bodies can check each other, and that, for the first time, is mentioned in the Constitution.

Now it's time for us to realise these things in practice.

There's another very important part that we need to note about ensuring rule of law, a new requirement of the judicial system. Earlier, we were saying that the court should uphold the law, now it is required to protect justice and human rights as well.

Justice is something very close to law, if we're talking about natural law - not laws that are created by the will of the ruling establishment.

If we assign the court the task of ensuring and protecting justice, we will have rule of law functioning well in the country.

Right now, it is too soon to ask about how rule of law is being practised in Viet Nam. It was important for us to put all these into law, and that has been done already. Now it's a very ambitious programme to amend our current governance systems. By some estimates, there are about 70 laws that should be amended to ensure compliance with the new Constitution.

I think that rule of law is a complicated concept and every society is trying to improve it. Shortcomings are unavoidable and criticism is not a bad thing. It makes you try better. I don't see that international complaints about Viet Nam's practice of the rule of law as a big problem.

If there is criticism that aims to put you down and doesn't recognise your efforts, it is not constructive and I don't think we need to pay it any heed.

I don't say we have an ideal system here. We should try our best to achieve it. There are a lot of things we need to do. On the one hand, we must be determined to do them, and on the other, we have to have the capacity and knowledge to do them. Everything cannot happen in a day. When ideas come, they should come to the head first, and then eventually to the heart. Then, if the ideas need to be developed further, we need to take the time needed to do it.

Nguyen Cong Tan

Nguyen Cong Tan, former Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister: on agriculture reform

In 1987, Viet Nam was in a crisis and the State introduced a new mechanism in agriculture production that saw Viet Nam became a country with a significant rice surplus. The new mechanism was simple: allocating agriculture production land to people.

However, in the current context, the earlier motivation cannot exist. Over the past several years, the income of farmers has not increased; they are making less profit or even suffering losses from agriculture production.

Those who suffer the most are farmers in the Hong (Red) River Delta – who have very little land for agriculture production. How can they feed their families? How can they afford sending their children to school? How can they afford healthcare services?

In rural areas nowadays, you can hardly find young people. Even if young people stay on in rural areas, they wouldn't work in the field. Don't blame farmers who want to return their agriculture land to the State. It's simply the development rule: you have to reach for jobs that bring better income.

Let those who can do well in agriculture production have the land they need for developing the business on a large scale, and let those who do not want to do farm work find jobs that suit them better.

What we need to do now is to find new motivation, and the thing of utmost importance is to increase farmers' income.

For instance, in crop production, instead of focusing solely on planting rice we should actually reduce the area for rice cultivation. Now we can grow corn, cassava and sweet potatoes. Why? Because these crops can bring much higher income per hectare than rice, and they are very much needed for making animal feed.

By 2020, Viet Nam will need about 30 million tones of animal feed for domestic use, which means we would need 20 million tonnes of starch. Growing corn and sweet potatoes, therefore, will generate sustainable profit for farmers.

On the other hand, after 2030, there will be great potential for using sweet potato starch in bio-ethanol fuel production.

Viet Nam should also focus on developing its strength in growing fruit instead of rubber, coffee or cashew. The country's varied weather conditions give us an advantage to do this.

I strongly support the mindset of people from the southern part of Viet Nam. They are not afraid of trying new things, new models. If they think something is profitable, they do not hesitate to try. I don't agree with the reluctant mindset of many officials in the agriculture sector, who are always afraid that if we shift from planting rice to other crops, there would be no output market. That's a very conservative thought and with such thinking, we cannot carry out proper restructuring.

In addition, applying new scientific and technological advances in agriculture is of critical importance. In order to increase the application of modern technology, the State can help by letting private entities take the initiative. The State doesn't have to do everything. Consulting foreign experts in this field can also help.

What I wish for now is that the State becomes an architect of development, not a hindrance to it. Enterprises should consider investing in agriculture for this is a field with huge potential. And farmers should actively take part in this process by improving their knowledge and skills.

Vu Tien Loc

Vu Tien Loc, Chairman of the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI): on the restructuring of State-owned enterprises (SOEs)

The State now faces the question of how to improve competitiveness and restructure domestic enterprises, to build up and strengthen foundational and sustainable factors.

Viet Nam should hasten this restructuring process.

Restructuring SOEs must be the focus, since this group holds 60 per cent of the total capital of the society, but they account for a modest 33 per cent of national economic growth and 30 per cent of the State budget.

The State should withdraw capital from its business entities to generate more capital for other targets and more importantly, encourage participation of private groups and foreign investors who are capable of improving supervision and administration and can bring in updated technology and other values.

Currently, the State has the majority of enterprises in sectors with great economic potential. Once it withdraws capital from these enterprises, the private sector, domestic and foreign, will become interested in bringing in the investment needed.

I propose two measures for this to be done. First, the Government should set up a body to manage State assets and capital. This agency will be responsible for the restructuring programme. Second, the Viet Nam Competition Administration Department, which is now under the Ministry of Industry and Trade, should become an independent organisation.

It's hard to conduct fair assessments as a market watchdog with the current arrangement. — VNS

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