Cablegate: National Assembly Fall Preview

Published: Fri 17 Oct 2003 10:28 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: National Assembly Fall Preview
1. (U) Summary: During a month-long plenary session
beginning October 21, the National Assembly is expected to
approve nine draft laws, most significantly a new Criminal
Procedures Code and a Land Law. Major political issues to
be debated include earlier access to defense lawyers for
people under criminal investigation, the adoption of
"adversarial" prosecution/defense courtroom procedures, the
appropriation of lump sum budget transfers for provinces,
and the division of two provinces into several smaller ones.
End Summary
2. (U) The fourth bi-annual session of the eleventh National
Assembly (NA), elected in May 2002, is scheduled to open on
October 21 and last for 33 working days. During the
session, delegates will debate, revise, and almost certainly
pass nine draft bills including revisions and supplements to
the existing Criminal Procedures Code, the Law on
Organizations of the People's Council and People's
Committees, the Law on Election to the People's Councils,
the Land Law, the Law on Cooperatives, the Law on State-
owned Enterprises, and provisions of three new laws
governing "thi dua" (civic spirit), aquaculture, and
construction. It will also assess and "give opinions" on
proposed amendments to the laws on Bankruptcy and Credit
Institutions, as well as on new drafts of the Civil
Procedures Code, the Inspection Law, and the Law on Inland
Water Transport. Finally, it will hear a report on
outstanding issues related to socialist land reform before
1991, and may pass a resolution on the issue. As in
previous sessions, selected Ministers will face the
delegates for question-and-answer sessions, although we do
not know yet which Ministers will be called.
3. (U) Discussions on draft amendments to the Criminal
Procedures Code are expected to be among the most
controversial. The most high profile of these proposed
changes is the move to allow attorneys access to clients
earlier in the investigative process (septel). Also
significant is an attempt to incorporate elements of the
"adversarial" litigation process familiar in Western
countries - in which prosecution and defense debate a case
before judges - into Vietnam's current "investigatory"
litigation mechanism - in which judges take the lead in
questioning the accused, and often try to extract
confessions. Many professional lawyers have spoken in favor
of the adversarial approach, and it has some support among
the full-time NA delegates, many of whom are lawyers
themselves. One vice chairman of the NA Law Committee has
warned against expecting major changes, however, saying that
even after reforms, the judging panel would still take the
lead in questioning the accused.
4. (U) One new feature will be that delegates will be
expected to read proposed legislation themselves before the
session; previously, the full text of each bit of
legislation was read aloud. The experiment will include
reading only summaries, in an effort to speed up the NA's
notoriously slow-paced deliberation process.
5. (U) According to sources, the NA will also consider
dividing the northwestern province of Son La - Vietnam's
fifth largest - into two provinces, and the Central Highland
province of Dak Lak - currently Vietnam's largest - into
three provinces. Local officials have complained that their
large, mountainous, and poor provinces are too big for
effective management, and that smaller provinces should be
created to better encourage economic development.
6. (U) According to senior staff members from the Office of
the National Assembly, high in the agenda of the session
will be discussions on appropriation of lump sum State funds
for fiscal year 2004, in accordance with a revised Budget
Law ratified in December last year. Currently the NA
discusses and approves central, provincial, district, and
commune level budgets. This has created an unwieldy
structure for budgetary agencies at the national level, and
considerable opportunities for corruption among officials
from central GVN offices dealing with State budget
allocations. Under the proposed revisions, the NA would
only decide on funds that are to be allocated from the
central budget to the budget of local provinces and cities.
Subsequently, the local People's Council will decide on
local budget estimates and distribution of spending among
different departments, offices, and sectors.
7. (U) Looking further ahead, the NA's fifth session slated
for May 2004 is expected to discuss and pass six draft laws,
plus three statures governing operations of its own Standing
Committee, Council for Ethnic Affairs, and various other
Committees. It is also planning to comment on eight other
draft laws, including the long-awaited amended Law on Public
Complaints and Denunciations. For the sixth session, it is
planning to consider and pass these eight laws, and comment
on ten other draft laws, including a combined Investment Law
governing both domestic and foreign investment, a Law on
National Security, and a Law on National Defense.
8. (U) Comment: The National Assembly remains more a
deliberative body than a true decision-making institution;
its main role is publicly to ratify legislation drafted and
proposed by the GVN, and it usually does so with little
murmur. The Land Law -- which directly affects the
interests of a wide range of individual Vietnamese citizens
-- has sparked heated discussions (including unsuccessful
calls for revisiting decades-old "land reform" programs in
which families lost their lands) in earlier sessions but
most likely has now had the kinks worked out already to
enable passage at this session, as predicted. The GVN will
be at pains also to prevent fireworks during the grilling of
Ministers. It will need to be careful, however; the
apparent effort in the last session to limit the time for
actual Q by letting Ministers read lengthy statements
first engendered much unnecessary disgruntlement among NA
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