Cablegate: National Assembly -- Flexing Its Muscles

Published: Thu 24 Jun 2004 08:51 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
Ref: A. Hanoi 1553 B. Hanoi 1713 C. Hanoi 1196
- D. Hanoi 956 E. 03 Hanoi 31561
1. (U) Summary. Vietnam's National Assembly (NA) ended its
summer session on June 15 after approving a record number of
laws and resolutions, thanks in large part to the
implementation of a new legislative procedure. Several
Cabinet members faced strong and well-publicized criticisms
of their performance from delegates, who nonetheless did not
invoke their power of votes of confidence/no confidence (ref
a). While still limited, the NA is moving in the right
direction to assume a more independent and influential role,
at least by voicing public dissatisfaction over selected
areas of GVN performance. End Summary.
2. (U) During the 5th session of the 9th National Assembly
(elected in May 2002), the NA implemented a new legislative
procedure that requires that any bill, before being
submitted to the full National Assembly for review and
possible adoption, must have been first thoroughly discussed
by legal experts, full-time delegates, provincial
parliamentarian delegations, and the National Assembly
Standing Committee (NASC). The goal is to enable the
plenary NA to focus on controversial aspects of proposed
legislation, instead of spending time arguing about wording
and terminology. With the new procedure in place, NA
delegates discussed and approved seven laws and regulations,
including the Civil Procedures Code. According to NA Vice
Chairman Nguyen Van Yeu, the NA took only two and a half
days to pass this new Code, which has 418 articles. In
contrast, he noted, the NA needed sixteen days in 1999 to
debate and approve amendments to the Criminal Code, which
had only 340 articles.
3. (U) The NA notably ratified the Tonkin Gulf Agreement
with the PRC (ref b). Additionally, the NA passed some
housekeeping regulations guiding the operations of the NASC
itself as well as of the NA's seven Committees and its
Ethnic Minorities Council. Delegates also offered comments
on five other bills. Sources in the Office of the National
Assembly (ONA) asserted that these actions represented the
highest number of laws and documents ever passed during a
single NA plenary session.
4. (SBU) However, open dissatisfaction by many NA deputies
over the GVN's "consistently poor performance" rather than
the high number of laws passed was most noteworthy aspect of
this NA session, according to Nguyen Chi Dzung, editor-in-
chief of the ONA's "Legislative Affairs Journal," and Le Tho
Binh, chief of the Hanoi Office of the Ho Chi Minh City-
based "Law Journal." According to Dzung, delegates clearly
raised their concerns about the GVN's failure efficiently to
deal with quite a number of long pending issues. Speaking
to the full NA, Vice Chairman Truong Quang Duoc echoed the
delegates' views, bemoaning "chronic" problems such as the
economy's inefficiency and its low competitiveness, lack of
overall economic planning, scattered State investment, and
high losses from State-funded projects.
5. (U) Delegates Duong Trung Quoc and Mai Quoc Binh from
Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, respectively, voiced concern
over the lack of long-term strategic planning for the
country. According to Quoc, the GVN is only good at
introducing "situational measures." Binh, a former vice
chairman of the Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee,
asserted that, despite a growth rate of 11 per cent in GDP
in 2003, Ho Chi Minh City's developments are still only
"partial and sectional." According to deputy Bui Ngoc Thanh
from Thanh Hoa province, with the current pace of losing
agricultural land, about 1.5 million people from rural areas
would become unemployed every year. Delegate Nguyen Thi
Nuong from mountainous Cao Bang province asserted there are
communes where up to sixty per cent of the households are
still considered below the poverty level, despite of various
national programs designed to tackle poverty in remote
mountainous areas.
6. (SBU) Dzung and Binh separately opined that such keen
dissatisfaction by many deputies over poor GVN performance
accounted for the unusually tough Q sessions with seven
cabinet members (Health, Transportation, Planning and
Investment, Education and Training, Sports, Culture and
Information, and Natural Resources and Environment), which
were televised live over a three-day period. Several
deputies called upon ministers to take personal
responsibility for failing to find solutions to newly
emerging issues such as the sharp price index increase and
high cost of medicines, as well as other long-standing
issues in the fields of investment and planning, land
management, education, and transportation. The ministers
acknowledged failures and mistakes, but generally refused to
accept "political responsibilities." The Minister of
Education and Training, with obvious irritation after three
hours of grilling, asked sarcastically if he had yet
acknowledged "enough" mistakes. The Minister of
Transportation asserted that he did not intend to promise
anything. The Minister of Public Health, however, was
thought by many experts to have acquitted herself
surprisingly well. The NA also passed a resolution
affirming the Government's decision to relieve Minister of
Agriculture and Rural Development of his responsibilities
(ref c).
7. (U) The blunt debate over the "political responsibility"
of individual cabinet members, which was widely covered by
local media, prompted some sharp rejoinders from high
ranking GVN officials. First Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen
Tan Dung (also an NA delegate) commented to local press that
it was after all "much easier" for deputies simply to come
up with criticisms. Speaking to the NA following the Q
session, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai (another NA delegate)
asserted instead that "in our country, it's always a shared
responsibility." The PM's spokesperson later shared with a
popular electronic newspaper a letter by four voters
"consoling" the ministers. Media contacts subsequently
confirmed to Embassy that the electronic newspaper had
received compliments from the CPV Commission for Ideological
and Cultural Affairs for having been willing to publicize
the letter.
8. (U) Some observers noted that many delegates had been
unhappy that the Prime Minister had only chosen to "speak"
to the NA, instead of "standing for questions" from
deputies. (He also chose DPM Dung to read the Government
report at the opening ceremony on May 11, rather than
present the score card himself.) Some delegates blamed PM
Khai for going against the trends of ongoing administrative
reform and perhaps even the Constitution with his "shared
responsibility" argument, said Dzung. (The Constitution
requires that cabinet ministers and other Government members
are accountable to the Prime Minister and the National
9. (U) Comment: While still primarily a talkfest, public
relations tool, and official rubberstamp for the Government,
the NA continues to flex its muscles by voicing ever more
open criticism of the GVN and by laying the groundwork for
possible punitive actions against poorly performing
Ministers and Ministries. Increased public attention has
created new pressure on NA deputies to speak out more
forcefully on issues of special popular concern, such as
traffic safety, corruption, inflation, etc. The NA has a
long road to go toward assuming a more truly independent and
effective role, but it is moving in the right direction.
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