In a talk with Saigon Investment, Asso. Prof. Dr. Nguyễn Minh Hòa, who has many years of research experience on urban governance of countries around the world and a deep understanding of Ho Chi Minh City, spoke of better identifying this issue.
JOURNALIST: - Sir, in the past, there have been many seminars where experts commented that Resolution 54 (NQ54) of the National Assembly on specific mechanisms and policies for Ho Chi Minh City offered many complicated problems, with limitations in results. Hence, it was proposed that a specific policy be issued for Ho Chi Minh City which will emphasize the need for a thorough decentralization of Ho Chi Minh City. However, now it seems that this approach has not received the consensus of many ministries. What is your opinion on this?
Dr. NGUYỄN MINH HÒA: - The most important thing is to understand the nature of the management system of each model, otherwise suggestions and solutions will go nowhere. Vietnam's management model is highly centralized, with all guidelines and policies coming from the center, or more specifically from above, such as the National Assembly and the Government, while the organizations below such as provinces and cities deploy guidelines, and policies according to the specific content of localities. These localities then have the right to be creative and innovative with these guidelines, but not beyond the general principles and leadership direction of state management agencies.
The strong and positive point of this model is focused on leading, directing, and unifying a bloc in terms of organization and will, eliminating sectarianism, local and group interests, and more importantly corruption. Resources such as capital and human resources are concentrated in one place and allocated according to a controlled plan. All decisions when issued are discussed, considered at the highest level, with reference to the grassroots.
When it becomes a plan, the program is implemented widespread and is equally understood by functional ministries and local authorities in terms of principles, standards, criteria, roadmap, and its various limitations. High standards of unity are a feature of the national governance model in our country's political system today. Therefore, the desire to have a "specific mechanism for Ho Chi Minh City" or “thorough decentralization" is difficult to accept in the current period.
- Sir, how should we understand decentralization? What is your opinion on the new approach of Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên, Secretary of the Party Committee?
- Across the world, when it comes to decentralization, it means decentralization by territory, which means that in the area of a state governor or city mayor, the latter has the right to do everything to develop the state or city. It is often called the mayor regime. The heads of states and cities elected by the people through election campaigns have the right to set regulations such as taxes, fees, security, law and order, and monitor the environment.
This head has access to the resources of the district and decides on personnel and many other areas of development. However, he cannot do whatever he wants, because there is still the City Council and the trust of the people which matters. The people have the right to remove this head through a vote of no confidence. The plans and actions of the head must always follow the legal corridor and hard-core principles of the country, such as not betraying the interests of the country and the people.
This model has weaknesses that are very easy to break, locally as well as across the rest of the country. In recent days, the different and contradictory policies between the government and the states and cities in the US and Canada to combat the Covid-19 pandemic are such examples. The decentralization of Vietnam is the right of enforcement and decentralization of responsibility. Therefore, the model of decentralization of self-determination by territory is not suitable for Vietnam.
Regarding the new approach suggested by Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên, Secretary of Party Committee of Ho Chi Minh City, I think in the current context it is the best, most correct, acceptable, and flexible approach. I appreciate this initiative.
Currently, besides Ho Chi Minh City, there are dozens of provinces, cities, and localities that want to have their own special mechanisms, such as Hanoi, Hai Phong, Quang Ninh, Da Lat, Da Nang, Binh Duong, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc, and all the Mekong Delta provinces. Standing at the macro level, we can see that if every locality requires specific policies, but it will be very difficult to manage at the national level, although each locality has special reasons that need to be prioritized such as Ho Chi Minh City is the economic locomotive or Lai Chau, Ha Giang are the borders of the country.
Therefore, Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên came up with the idea that finding new and most important issues should be proposed to the Central Committee and persistently stick to results, which is a suitable step as it is better to demand a separate institution.
In fact, raising individual issues and then sticking to them, approaching ministries and sectors, giving convincing explanations through many channels such as National Assembly forums, conferences, seminars, media, official dispatches, reports is not new, because Ho Chi Minh City has been doing it for many years, and has been successful in it. For instance, increasing the budget from 18% to 23% is a good example. What is new this time is the formation of a systematic and unified policy and approach in the entire Party Committee.
I see that Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên has a rather scientific approach to complex issues. For instance, when every district wants to go directly to the city, he made a very clear point of view that it is not important to go to the district or city, but more important thing is asking about the quality of life of the people.
- Sir, Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên , Secretary of the Party Committee of Ho Chi Minh City has proposed five new issues. In your opinion, are these issues suitable in the current context?
- The five issues proposed by Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên include investment management, budgetary finance, urban management, personnel organization, and the development of Thu Duc City. All five of these are urgent issues for Ho Chi Minh City, but in these five issues, it is necessary to clearly determine which ones need to be prioritized first, what is their roadmap, in which direction to approach them, which city agency is responsible, and if all five issues are released at the same time, then what resources can they embrace and disperse. The Secretary of the Party Committee of Ho Chi Minh City has clearly stated his point of view in a principled and very flexible manner.
In terms of urban management and environmental resources, Ho Chi Minh City proposes to decentralize the People's Committee to be approved for local adjustment of urban planning within the overall urban planning approved by the Prime Minister.
This means that the Central Government will give Ho Chi Minh City the right to approve and partially adjust urban planning without having to ask relevant ministries and agencies as before, but the Secretary of the Party Committee of Ho Chi Minh City clearly stated that all activities of Ho Chi Minh City must be under the overall urban planning approved by the Prime Minister. This is a new approach towards being free to act within the legal framework and corridor, and the Prime Minister's approval will be considered as the ordinance and principle for all actions. This can be termed as principled decentralization.
- Sir, there is an opinion that each political institution has a different, irreplaceable, and transformational management model. Therefore, Vietnam cannot change the urban management model and national governance like developed countries. What is your opinion on this?
- This is not correct. We are living in an era of openness and a global economy. Therefore, in order to develop, we must change to do business with friends around the world, which means we have something separate but we also have something in common.
In terms of political institutions, we have not changed the leadership method, system structure, and national operating principles, but we have completely changed the technology and components. Our country's politics and economy are unified, but composed of different parts, as they are modules in the system. Therefore, the establishment, deletion, replacement, or modification of modules in the system is completely possible.
Technically we are changing very quickly and dramatically. In many fields, we are approaching developed countries at an equal level, such as customs, import and export, investment, banking, tourism, and securities. If it doesn't change, how can we get millions of international tourists, and thousands of big investors from all over the world to come to Vietnam?
We are now in the process of transitioning to a digital society at a national level, which is proof that a change in part of the system is being implemented. If we are different, we cannot play with our global friends. Therefore, it can be asserted that political principles belonging to institutions cannot be changed, but what is local and technical can be changed. This is the scientific basis for Ho Chi Minh City to take breakthrough steps without contradicting the national polity.
- Sir, do you believe that Ho Chi Minh City will successfully implement the direction that Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên, Secretary of the Party Committee has suggested?
- I believe in its success. Because during the working trip with Ho Chi Minh City, it showed the impatience of Mr. Nguyễn Phú Trọng, General Secretary of the Party Committee, when he said that Ho Chi Minh City must play a leading role and become a driving force for development, connecting with sub-regions in the Southeast and with other regions in the country, which are showing signs of slowing down or even partly declining. Therefore, Ho Chi Minh City's proposal to create breakthroughs with the whole country will receive support from central to local levels.
Ho Chi Minh City should propose to the Central Government to choose Ho Chi Minh City as pilot in implementing new issues.
-Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên, Secretary of the Ho Chi Minh City Party Committee
However, the road will be very difficult, as Prime Minister Phạm Minh Chính said on 27 July during his business trip to Ho Chi Minh City, that any issue that is over the authority of the province must be reported and explained in writing. But the necessary documents face delays and have still not reached the Prime Minister because the policy mechanism is very difficult. Therefore, Ho Chi Minh City needs to pursue an attitude of perseverance and flexibility as its success or failure depends greatly on its great team of good advisers and experts who have the vision and heart to help the leaders realize the ideas of Mr. Nguyễn Văn Nên, Secretary of the Party Committee.
- Thank you very much.