In a candid assessment, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh said several weeks ago that many of the 2,300 official visits abroad by Vietnamese delegations in 2013 were ineffective and a waste of scarce State budget resources. Viet Nam News spoke to several experts and officials on the issue.
|Vu Minh Giang
Professor Vu Minh Giang, former President of the Ha Noi National University
Studies have shown that many members of Vietnamese delegations focus on shopping and entertainment during their trip abroad rather than the work they are supposed to do. This cannot be denied.
In our nation's history, there are people I really admire, like Nguyen Truong To, a scholar and reformer during the reign of King Tu Duc of the Nguyen Dynasty. He had to travel to a lot of countries and territories; and he always told the King that he never felt that he was beneath any other counterparts.
I also recall another story: In China's history, they referred to most countries in the southern part of Asia with the prefix "Man" – in Chinese, it has the connotation of lower and underdeveloped. In a conversation with a Japanese professor, he said in his country's history books, they call Viet Nam "An Nam foreign country" – without the mentioned prefix, although Japan borrowed many ideas and practices from China. The Japanese envoy said that many Vietnamese ambassadors in the past did their mission really well and presented a good image of their country. That might be why Viet Nam in the past was respected by many foreign countries.
Later, the country went through a long period during which going abroad was something very difficult to do, virtually a dream for many people. So when we adopted the open-door policy, the Government wanted to create favourable conditions for our officials to go abroad.
I myself have received some requests from my colleagues, that I should find some chance to send them abroad on a working trip, because only then could they retire happily.
It's true that many Vietnamese people, to be more precise, State and Government staff, think going abroad on a working trip is not to work, but to enjoy and to travel. So they don't prepare seriously for the trip and therefore, contribute very little to either improving themselves or representing the country well.
|Dang Dinh Quy
Dang Dinh Quy, Director, Diplomacy Academy of Viet Nam
I think we have to distinguish between different kinds of overseas working trips. There are high-ranking official visits, multilateral or bilateral working trips and exchange visits.
We can't say that high-ranking visits or trips that serve the purpose of multilateral or bilateral negotiations are not effective.
For the rest, when members of Vietnamese delegations going overseas cannot fulfill their missions well, there can be serious consequences. Firstly, it's a waste of the State budget, a waste of the tax that people have to pay. Secondly, such delegates make the country look bad in the eyes of international friends.
In order to make working trips abroad effective, we need to be clear about these questions: What are the goals of the trip? What is the role of each delegate in the delegation? How would delegates share their experiences after the trips? Our overseas trips will have practical value only when we are able to answer these questions properly.
An official from the Party Central Committee's Organisation Commission (who preferred not to be named)
I think there are several reasons for the fact that many members of State, Party and Government delegations to other countries have weak communications skills in English.
First, our country opened its market to the world quite late compared to others, in 1986. Even then, the major relations we had was with the Soviet Union – thus you can find many people of that generation being able to communicate fluently in Russian, not English.
The education system is another reason. I myself experienced this. Even after 12 years of studying English, I could not use the language properly in daily communication. And now, when I have to go on a working trip abroad, I still have to use an interpreter. If students don't go for extra classes and just learn from the school's programme, their English is probably not good enough to work when they graduate.
Another reason is that those who are outstanding, not only in using a foreign language but also in their professional field of work, hesitate to work for a State agency. They'd rather work for private enterprises or foreign enterprises – simply because of higher incomes.
We also have to say that the recruitment mechanism of State agencies is still a hindrance to attracting talented people. Apart from their education, skills and knowledge, we also have to consider their political views.
Yet another important reason that we have to mention is this: corruption that allows people with inadequate education or fake degrees to enter the State system. It can't be denied we do have people who lack the capacity to work in State agencies.
From my experience, it's a common understanding among many delegates that a working trip abroad is a kind of social welfare policy designed exclusively for them. It's like this: if you go on a working trip this year, next year it will be another's turn. And when you go on such trips, your concern would be shopping and entertainment, not working seriously.
I've met many delegates who don't even know how to fill a customs declaration form.
Now, the Party Central Committee's Organisation Commission has initiated Project 165, in which we provide training for Party staff in professional skills as well as foreign languages. So far, we have sent more than 11,000 people abroad to study. The project has proved to be quite effective.
Hoang Tam Hieu, an official with the Ministry of Public Security
In general, in my experience as a former interpreter for the Ministry of Public Security, delegations of the ministry and provincial police departments need interpreters to accompany them because members lack the ability to communicate fluently in English. Even those who do know English can only communicate basic stuff, and cannot handle detailed and professional subjects independently.
Overseas working trips are important opportunities for people to work directly with their partners and experience first hand the political, cultural and professional characteristics of host nations. When you can't use their language (or a common language like English), you lack the tools to take advantage of the opportunity. Interpretation is needed and can prove to be useful in some cases, but interpreters cannot help with subjects other than those included in the framework of the working trip. The effectiveness of the trips, therefore, remains low.
The only way to address this, in my opinion, is that individuals try to improve themselves, equip themselves with sufficient tools for such working trips, like developing the ability to communicate fluently in foreign languages. — VNS