LOCAL GOVERNMENT, TAXES, PROPAGANDA AND BUREAUCRACY IN VIETNAM

LOCAL GOVERNMENT IN VIETNAM

Provinces are subdivided divided into districts, villages and townships. The provinces and municipalities are centrally controlled by the national government. The towns, districts, and villages are locally accountable to some degree through elected people’s councils. The national government has traditionally maintained power by installing village leaders loyal to them.

People usually think that everything in Vietnam is under central control. Pepe Escobar wrote in the Asia Times, “ That's not the case. Every province is king. The country is in fact a federation. Of course it's key to have Hanoi's approval. But the important piece of paper that really matters is to be delivered by each province's People's Committee. [Source: Pepe Escobar, Asia Times, August 15, 2003]

The autonomous municipalities directly under central authority are divided into precincts, and these are subdivided into wards. Provincial districts are divided into villages and townships; provincial towns and provincial capitals are divided into wards and villages. Each districts, village and townships has its own people’s council, the main political organization at each level. People's council are elected at provincial, district and village levels. They choose administrative committees to handle local issues.

Mark Moyar of the Naval Institute Press wrote: "South Vietnamese village politics often escapes Americans, because it differs so greatly from their own political experience. The American political system gives authority to individuals whom large masses of people elect. The Vietnamese masses generally chose to follow the charismatic and strong elites whose propaganda was persuasive, without assessing the political programs of these elites thoughtfully. The foundation and success of would-be rulers in South Vietnam depended almost entirely on the elites at the top who guided the masses, not on the masses themselves. [Source: Mark Moyar, Naval Institute Press, 1997]

Administrative divisions: 58 provinces (tinh, singular and plural) and 5 municipalities (thanh pho, singular and plural): Provinces: An Giang, Bac Giang, Bac Kan, Bac Lieu, Bac Ninh, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Ben Tre, Binh Dinh, Binh Duong, Binh Phuoc, Binh Thuan, Ca Mau, Cao Bang, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Dien Bien, Dong Nai, Dong Thap, Gia Lai, Ha Giang, Ha Nam, Ha Tinh, Hai Duong, Hau Giang, Hoa Binh, Hung Yen, Khanh Hoa, Kien Giang, Kon Tum, Lai Chau, Lam Dong, Lang Son, Lao Cai, Long An, Nam Dinh, Nghe An, Ninh Binh, Ninh Thuan, Phu Tho, Phu Yen, Quang Binh, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Quang Ninh, Quang Tri, Soc Trang, Son La, Tay Ninh, Thai Binh, Thai Nguyen, Thanh Hoa, Thua Thien-Hue, Tien Giang, Tra Vinh, Tuyen Quang, Vinh Long, Vinh Phuc, Yen Bai Municipalities: Can Tho, Da Nang, Hanoi, Hai Phong, Ho Chi Minh City. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

Provincial and Local Government After the End of the Vietnam War in 1975

The people's councils represent the local authority of the state and are the top supervisory bodies at each level. They do not govern directly but instead elect and oversee people's committees that act as executive bodies and carry out local administrative duties. Council members are popularly elected-- although candidates are screened by the party--and are responsible for ensuring strict local observance of the Constitution and laws and for ruling on local plans and budgets. Council members are further charged with overseeing the development and maintenance of local armed forces units. [Source: Library of Congress, 1987 *]

Following the Fourth National Party Congress in 1976, the districts became the basic administrative units of the government. The Congress had declared that the districts should become agro-industrial economic units, acting to orchestrate the reorganization of production. Formerly, they had functioned simply as intermediaries for channeling directives to the village level. After 1976 they functioned as agencies for economic planning, budgeting, and management, and as the chief political units of local government. Emphasis on this latter function has created an enormous bureaucracy. Many provincial people's committees have in excess of thirty separate departments, and each district people's committee has had to establish an equal number of counterparts. *

The government of an autonomous municipality consists of an elected people's council that in turn elects an executive committee headed by a mayor. The executive committee oversees numerous departments administering various activities. The precinct wards of the autonomous municipalities are divided into sectors, which are then further divided into neighborhood solidarity cells. As many as 28 to 30 cells, together numbering 400 to 600 households, may make up a sector, and 10 sectors may compose a ward. The administration of a village corresponds to that of an urban ward. The ward executive committee ensures that government activities prescribed by the precinct committee are carried out. The precinct committee simply represents an intermediary level between the municipal government and the ward committees. *

At the ward level, in addition to people's councils and executive committees, there are security departments with connections to the national security apparatus. The security departments monitor the activities of ward members, but the departments' decisions are kept secret from the chairpersons of the ward executive committees. A sector, instead of having an executive committee, has a residents' protective committee concerned with fighting fires and preventing petty crime. A sector security officer is charged with the suppression of dissent. Every head of household belongs to a subcell of only a few families and reports regularly to a neighborhood solidarity cell comprising twelve to twenty families. Party directives and policies reach the citizenry via the party's mass organizations or the hierarchy of the party and its representatives at the ward level. *

Neighbor monitoring councils are much more relaxed than they once were.

Bureaucracy in Vietnam

There are 1.3 million state employees and civil servants in Vietnam. Their salaries are low but they receive many perks such as cheap subsidized housing and food. People’s Committees are the administrative bodies for Vietnamese Communist Party. Committee. They do the grunt work for the Vietnamese bureaucracy . Bureaucrats have traditionally gone through great lengths to make sure they didn’t make any mistakes or anger a superior.

At the top of the bureaucracy is The Cabinet, which is appointed by the president based on proposal of prime minister and confirmed by National Assembly. The Vietnamese government has ministers in the following areas: agriculture and rural development; construction; culture and information; education and training; finance; foreign affairs; industry; interior; justice; labor, war invalids, and social affairs; marine products; national defense; planning and investment; public health; science, technology and environment; trade; and transport and communications. In 2007, the National Assembly approved a proposal to reduce the size of his government, from 26 to 22 ministries and ministry-level agencies.

In 2011, Ian Timberlake of AFP wrote: "Excessive bureaucracy remains a top complaint for foreign investors, along with corruption, a shortage of skilled workers and an under-developed infrastructure including roads, electricity and ports. The ruling Communists have pledged to carry out reforms long sought by foreign businesses, but the wheels of central government grind slowly and parts of Vietnam are seen as lagging in key infrastructure. [Source: Ian Timberlake, Agence France-Presse, April 17, 2011]

Cadres

Society under Communist rule is ruled by the party's ubiquitous presence, which is manifested in a network of party cadres at almost every level of social activity. All citizens are expected to be members of one or another of the mass organizations led by party cadres, and all managers and military officials are ultimately answerable to party representatives. This system has much less clout than it once did and is more of a monitoring system than one that governs people’s lives.

Cadres are party members in leadership positions. They function at all levels of party organization but are most numerous at lower levels. The strength of the cadre system is its ability to mobilize the people quickly. Its weaknesses include abuse of power, which is facilitated by the absence of enforced standards of conduct, and over-reliance by the higher echelons on the lower. The higher party leaders tolerate the excesses of lower echelon cadres because the lower level representatives tend to be well entrenched in local society and in the best position to influence the people. Higher officials simply lack the clout to motivate the people as well. [Source: Library of Congress]

Vietnamese Communist Party Organizations

Party caucuses operate throughout the government and mass organizations. Using assorted methods of persuasion and proselytization, they implement party lines, policies, and resolutions; increase party influence and unity; and develop and propose guidelines and programs for mass organizations and party committees at various administrative levels. Party caucuses are responsible for appointing political cadres to serve as delegates or to hold key positions in such government organizations as the National Assembly and the people's councils, or in such party organizations as the party congresses and the mass organizations. In state agencies where the "manager system" is practiced--those in which party cadres have been appointed officially to management positions--the functions of party caucuses are assumed by coordination and operations committees. The chapter is the basic party unit. It numbers from three to thirty members depending upon whether it represents a production, work, or military unit. Larger groups, such as factories or cooperatives, may have more than one party chapter. A chapter's chief responsibilities are to indoctrinate party members and to provide political leadership for production units and the armed forces. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The purpose of front organizations is to mobilize and recruit for the party and to monitor the activities of their members in cooperation with local security agents. Organizations may be segregated by sex, age, national origin, profession, or other traits designated by the party. From members of front organizations, such as the Red-Scarf Teenagers' Organization and the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League, the party is able to select potential party members. *

The Vietnam Fatherland Front, because it unites a number of subordinate front organizations, is the most important. Its first unified national congress took place in January 1977 when all national front organizations, including the National Front for the liberation of South Vietnam, informally called the National Liberation Front (NLF, Mat Tran Dan Toc Giai Nam Viet Nam), operating in the south, were merged under its banner. In the late 1980s, the Vietnam General Confederation of Trade Unions, described by the party as the "broadest mass organization of the working class," was also significant because its members, along with party members, state employees, and members of the Youth League, were included among the elite granted material privileges by the state. Finally, the Ho Chi Minh Communist Youth League was important because it acted to screen, train, and recruit party members. In the mid-and late 1980s, the party increasingly viewed the front organizations as moribund and criticized them for being no longer representative of party policy. Party General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh, however, sought to revive and develop them as important avenues for controlled criticism of party abuses. *

Vietnam’s Government Budget and Taxes

Budget: revenues: $42.14 billion; expenditures: $47.57 billion (2012 est.). Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-): -3.9 percent of GDP (2012 est.), country comparison to the world: 135. Public debt: 48.2 percent of GDP (2012 est.), country comparison to the world: 67; 48.3 percent of GDP (2011 est.). [Source: CIA World Factbook ++]

Official data and data covering general government debt includes debt instruments issued (or owned) by government entities other than the treasury. The data include treasury debt held by foreign entities; debt issued by subnational entities; as well as intra-governmental debt. Intra-governmental debt consists of treasury borrowings from surpluses in the social funds, such as for retirement, medical care, and unemployment; debt instruments for the social funds are not sold at public auctions

In November 2003, Vietnam’s National Assembly approved a total state budget of about US$12 billion for 2004, corresponding to about 26.5 percent of estimated gross domestic product (GDP). The government’s budget deficit, currently targeted not to exceed 5 percent, is rising but remains under control in the view of independent observers.

Taxes and other revenues: 30.5 percent of GDP (2012 est.), country comparison to the world: 95. Corporate tax rate: 25 percent to 22 in 2014, compared to 17 percent in Singapore and 35.6 percent in Japan.

1) Foreigners, who earn incomes and stay in Vietnam for less than 183 days in a tax year, have to pay 25 percent income tax. Should they stay for more than 183 days, they are to pay a progressive worldwide income tax. 2) Monthly incomes earned by Vietnamese are non-tax deductible. Vietnamese with a monthly income of less than five million dong (around US$300) are not subject to income tax while those who earn more shall be taxed at a progressive rate. 3) Foreigners with monthly incomes of less than eight million dong are not subject to income tax while those who earn more shall be taxed at a progressive rate. 4) The standard tax rate on corporate income is 28 percent. For companies that are granted investment promotional privileges, the rate will be 10 percent, 15 percent or 20 percent with a tax break for two to four years and a reduction to half the normal tax rate for three to nine years. [Source: Wittaya Supatanakul, Bangkok Post, December 22, 2007, Wittaya Supatanakul was the general manager for Bangkok Bank's Ho Chi Minh City branch before becoming the adviser on the bank's Vietnam strategy]

Vietnam’s welfare efforts target victims of the Second Indochina War (1954–75), such as individuals disabled in combat or by toxic chemicals and the families of fallen combatants. About 5 million Vietnamese, corresponding to more than 6 percent of the population, are disabled. The Ministry of Labor, War Invalids, and Social Affairs administers welfare. Vietnam has legislated a social insurance system with provisions for old age, disability, and death; sickness and maternity; and work injury. Coverage is reported to be mandatory for state employees, non-state enterprises with more than 10 employees, and foreign-invested enterprises. Special programs are said to exist for government civil servants and armed forces personnel.

The opening of free market reforms in the late 1980s also put an end to government subsidized education, health care. Subsidies cut when money coming from East Bloc dried up after the fall of Communism.

Vietnamese Officials Accused of Wasting Millions of Dollars

In 2007 Associated Press reported: "Vietnamese police have arrested a former vice minister for allegedly wasting millions of dollars on overpriced computers, software and technology training, local media reported Friday. Vu Dinh Thuan, the former number-two official in Vietnam 's Office of Government, was detained in Hanoi said a report in the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper and several other publications. [Source: Associated Press, September 14, 2007 |*|]

"The Office of Government provides administrative oversight and support to Vietnam 's government ministries. Police allege that Thuan mismanaged a project that provided information technology and training to all government offices nationwide. The project was intended to reform Vietnam 's often cumbersome bureaucracy. Police also arrested seven other government officials involved in the project, the newspaper said. Thuan and other detainees were accused of buying overpriced computers, useless software and overpaying technology trainers, said the paper. The report did not specify how much money was lost, but said it ran into the millions of dollars. |*|

Red Tape in Vietnam

There is a lot of red tape in Vietnam. An investment license requires the approval of at least a dozen ministries and committees. In the 1990s the paperwork and approval process for even the most straight-forward investment often took more than two years. An American businessman told the New York Times, "in this country you have to go strictly by the book, and the book is very thick." Businessmen frustrated by the fact it seems they need authorization from every layer of the thickly layered bureaucracy. One man told Time it is "better than the old days. then, if you were dying and needed a blood transfusion, you'd have to get prime Minister Phan Van Dong to sign off."

There are a multitude of regulations and laws affecting taxation, trade, banking and other activities. The firmly-entrenched bureaucracy is hard to dismantle and as a result the government often moves at "glacial speeds" to make reforms, One American businessman told the New York Times: "There are laws that come out every week, and you're not sure how they are going to be implemented. Even when you read the laws, you're not always immediately aware what they mean."

The World Bank's 2010 "Doing Business report" says it takes on average 44 days and nine administrative procedures to start a business in Vietnam, compared with an average of 39 and eight in the rest of Asia.The American Chamber of Commerce had to cancel a big bash in 1994 celebrating the end of the U.S. trade embargo on Vietnam when it was informed by party cadres shortly before the party was to begin that meetings of 10 or people required a license. Twenty years many foreign business people in Vietnam complain things haven’t improved much.

In February 2001, The Star reported: "Vietnam has the most red tape in Asia with India a close second, according to a survey published in Hong Kong Monday. At the other end of the scale, Hong Kong and Singapore were rated as the locations where businessmen ran up against the fewest regulations. Businessmen in 13 Asian countries were asked to rate the bureaucracies where they worked on a scale of one to 10 with the lower the score meaning the less red tape. Vietnam scored 9.5 and India 9, with China close behind with a score of 8.9. Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines all scored 8. In the middle range for red tape, Taiwan scored 6.57, Malaysia scored 6.5, South Korea 6.3 and Japan 6. The least red tape was encountered in Hong Kong, which scored 3.29; Singapore, 3.6; and Australia, 4.The annual survey by the Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy described civil servants in Vietnam as "some of the most difficult to work with in Asia.'' [Source: The Star (Malaysia), February 27, 2001]

Red Tape and Graft Hinder Business in Vietnam

In December 2003, Reuters reported: " Foreign businesses blame Vietnam's red tape and corruption for their decisions not to invest in the country, which is falling behind booming China, a survey showed. Hanoi has been trying to address those problems, but the Vietnam Business Forum, a private sector group that seeks to improve investment conditions in the country, issued a survey of business sentiment that expressed continuing concerns. Of the 143 foreign and local firms that responded to the October survey, about 23 percent said they planned no expansion of their business, with 54 percent of those complaining that bureaucracy and corruption were the biggest hindrances. [Source: Reuters, December 1, 2003 ><]

"Vietnam has "begun a "one-stop" approval process for investment and other procedures to cut away layers of bureaucracy that have long been the bane of investors. While acknowledging progress, the forum, attended by scores of foreign and local businesses and government officials, said too many issues remained unresolved in the economy. Deputy Prime Minister Vu Khoan said Vietnam needed to continue to improve the investment environment. Its priorities included "combating corruption and red-tape and building a cleaner and more effective apparatus," he said. But those pledges are not new to the foreign businessmen. ><

"Tony Salzman, a businessman based in Vietnam who heads the manufacturing and distribution working group of the forum, said, "Vietnam has committed to doing things in its own time and way," adding it was clear Vietnam had much more to do on fighting graft, noting that an attempt to set up a working group on transparency in awarding contracts by tender had fizzled after government representatives declined to join. The issue "is considered so hot that no one wanted to attend the meeting", he said. Hanoi said recently that up to 30 percent of infrastructure project capital had been diverted into the pockets of "unscrupulous" officials, consultants and contractors. ><

In 2009 Catherine Deshayes wrote on themovechannel.com: "There is so much red tape and formalities to comply with when developing property in Vietnam that both international and local property developers are becoming less and less keen to continue to invest and develop in the country - so now in a last ditch attempt to speed up projects, they are urging the Government to cut the administration needed and get the sector moving once more. [Source: Catherine Deshayes, themovechannel.com, October 25, 2009 /+\]

"The sheer number of administrative delays are holding up development projects in Vietnam, say developers. This means that they cannot move the developments forward or apply to get new ones started, despite a strong demand from consumers. Waiting periods of as much as two years to get a licence to start a development are not uncommon, meaning frustration for both developers and investors. The Vietnam Tourism Property Association supports their move to encourage the Government to cut the red tape and it is keen to work closely with developers to attract more visitors and boost the potential for international property investors.There is also deep concern that the difficulty surrounding developing in the country will deter international buyers and developers from coming to Vietnam. This could impact negatively on the country's property sector as a whole as it struggles to recover in the light of the credit crunch. /+\

"Some industry experts are arguing that the problem lies not with the system itself but with the staff, who simply do not have the necessary training to complete and push through the administration needed. This again could deter foreign investors as they may feel there are just too many hurdles between them and a possible Vietnam investment, so may turn their attentions elsewhere. /+\

Vietnam's Controversial 'Dictator' Cuts Red Tape

Reporting from Danang in 2011, Ian Timberlake of AFP wrote: "He has been called a dictator and is dogged by rumours of corruption but many agree that Nguyen Ba Thanh has rare talents in a country choked by bureaucracy: He gets things done. As Vietnam looks to retool its economy, some foreign investors say the city of Danang, where Thanh is the local Communist Party leader, could be an example for the rest of the country. "I think it should be the model," said Peter Ryder, chief executive officer of Indochina Capital, which invested about $300 million to develop beachfront properties and a downtown highrise in the city. Ryder said Thanh, 58, has an "enormous footprint" and deserves a lot of credit for Danang's popularity among investors, partly thanks to its dynamic political culture. "He's a pioneer," agreed Takafumi Matsumoto, secretary general of The Japan Business Association in Danang. [Source: Ian Timberlake, Agence France-Presse, April 17, 2011 /~/]

"An index supported by the US Agency for International Development, based on a survey of 7,300 private Vietnamese businesses, placed Danang first among the country's 63 cities and provinces as a place to do business in 2010. The index is based on various criteria including how long it takes to start a business, the amount of "informal" or corrupt charges paid, the time firms waste on bureaucratic compliance, and the initiative level of local leadership. In contrast, Vietnam's business hub Ho Chi Minh City ranked 23 in 2010 while the capital Hanoi came in at 43. /~/

"The city of about 900,000 people has progressed since 1997 when it broke away from a neighbouring province and Thanh, a native of the city, took on top leadership roles. In contrast to the staid image of a communist cadre, foreign business sources described Thanh as "a character" and a "benevolent dictator", while one said "he's right off the set of 'The Sopranos'." "He is known as the King of Danang", a longtime Vietnam-watcher said. "He is also quite megalomaniacal, saying he will transform Danang into a new Singapore. And when you know the two cities, there is quite a long way to go." /~/

"Thanh's supporters strongly reject the dictator label and say there is no proof to back up the corruption allegations. Benoit de Treglode, director of the Research Institute on Contemporary Southeast Asia in Bangkok, said Thanh had benefited from close ties with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung as well as the military, whose lands have been obtained for development. Although the centre of Vietnam has lost some political clout in recent years, "as a compensation Danang has become the prime minister's top priority for investments," de Treglode said. /~/

Red Tape Continues to Confound in Vietnam

In August 2013, Thanh Nien reported: "After several faltering starts, Vietnam began its efforts to cut red tape in right earnest in 2007, but seven years on, local and foreign businesses are not breathing any sighs of relief. They say their projects are still snagged in complicated and confusing paperwork. The results of a study released by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) at a meeting earlier this week show that administrative procedures related to investment, land and construction are considered the most troublesome by investors. The study covered 8,053 Vietnamese and 1,540 foreign companies, the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported. [Source: Thanh Nien, August 29, 2013 ^^]

"Many businesses said local policies and laws regarding investment are quite complicated, inconsistent and overlapping; therefore, they are not effective when enforced and the process lacks transparency and stability. To start a project in the country, investors have to complete at least 18 kinds of paperwork related to investment, land, environment and construction, the study found. It said the procedures are regulated by five codes, ten decrees, nine circulars, and "incalculable" guiding documents issued by local governments. "Each locality has different procedures, confusing investors and businesses as if they have been lost in a matrix," the Thoi bao Kinh te Saigon (Saigon Times) newspaper quoted Dau Anh Tuan of the VCCI’s Legal Department. ^^

"Under current regulations, it can take businesses as many as 60 days to get licenses for their projects, but in reality, the time taken is much longer, said Nguyen Quoc Hiep, chairman of the Vietnam Association of Construction Contractors. First, businesses have to file their application for licenses with the local department of investment and planning and wait for 40 days to get the agency’s review, he said. After that, they have to submit the application to the local People’s Committee, and wait again for at least 30 days before the authorities send letters to related agencies to collect their opinions on the project. It takes another 30 days for related agencies to send their responses, Hiep said. Totally, it takes more than four months for a project to be licensed, but in some cases it is even longer, Hiep said, adding that one of his company’s (GP Invest) projects had to wait for up to 14 months. Hiep said the situation is "more terrible" for foreign investors. ^^

"Red tape remains a big barrier to attracting foreign investment into Vietnam, despite the government’s reform efforts over years, VCCI chairman Vu Tien Loc said at the meeting. Loc said "unnecessary" licenses have been resurfacing in regulations recently issued by local governments and ministries. "Compared to other countries in the region, Vietnam’s investment environment is getting worse, and we now have a humble rank on foreign investors’ list of priorities," Loc said. ^^

"According to the VCCI study, businesses were also concerned about the consistency of Vietnam’s investment policies, including regulations on preferential treatment. For instance, the Law on Investment regulates that projects in industrial zones are eligible to enjoy preferential policies. But the Law on Corporate Income and the decree guiding its implementation says the preferential policies can only be enjoyed by projects in industrial zones that are located in disadvantaged localities. ^^

"Hiep said that when his company was constructing a high-rise building in 2009, the government ordered Hanoi to ban high buildings in four central districts. In the end, they could not do anything but follow the government’s decision, he said. Tuan from the VCCI’s Legal Department also said that rules have been changed two to three times while many projects were still in progress. "Businesses have no choice but to accept risks related to administrative procedures," Hiep said. ^^

"Authors of the VCCI study said it is time Vietnam mapped the whole set of procedures that businesses have to follow, from preparing for investment to undertaking their projects, remove redundant and unnecessary ones, standardize them, and finally adjust related legal documents. They also suggested authorities apply the principle that one dominating law – regulations or a decree on administrative procedures related to investment – is allowed to prevail over any other law that contradicts it. Nguyen Dinh Cung, deputy head of the Central Institute for Economic Management, agreed with the proposal, expressing the hope that the National Assembly will revise laws related to investment next year, cutting a lot of red tape. He said: "If we want breakthrough reforms in the business environment, we need to have quick reforms on a big scale. At the moment, we talk a lot, but do not do much." ^^

Vietnam's Civil Servants Told to Mind Their Manners

In 2007 AFP reported: "Communist Vietnam's public servants have been told to improve their manners, stop shouting at people and refrain from cooking in government offices, state media reported Friday. Responding to public complaints about the rudeness of some stamp-wielding bureaucrats, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has signed a new set of directives on government "office culture" that took effect this week. [Source: Agence France Presse, September 7, 2007 >>>]

"In communication and behaviour, civil servants must have a polite and respectful attitude," say the new rules. "The communication language must be clear and understandable. No swearing, use of slang or shouting." Vietnam's 84 million citizens must navigate a bewildering array of committees and other officialdom to obtain everything from residency permits and ID cards to school enrolment. The system often leaves people at the mercy of poorly paid and sometimes corrupt bureaucrats, but the new directive tells Vietnam's 1.3 million state employees to avoid an "authoritarian attitude" and "cumbersome" procedures. It also bans hanging up the phone, making clear that "phone conversation must not be cut off suddenly." Banned office behaviour includes burning incense, cooking food and smoking. Alcoholic drinks are also out "except in cases agreed by the head of the agency, during festivals or receptions of guests." >>>

"Drinking Miracles" of Dead Vietnamese Official

In May 2013, the Viet Nam News reported: "A few years ago, the chairman of the office of province was reported dead because of drinking. It is said that this man was appointed to the chairmanship of the provincial government office because besides his good qualification, he could drink well, which is suitable for the position that has to receive a lot of guests. On the day taking office, this official did not disappoint his superiors with his drinking ability. He was still in full possession of his senses after drinking liters of alcohol. [Source: Duy Chien, VietNamNet, May 10, 2013 \+\]

"In over a year in this position, the saddest person in the world was his wife because during this time he rarely had meal at home. He had to receive guests everyday. He was extremely busy with guests during the flood season, when delegations from Hanoi and other provinces came to his province to check or to share anti-flood experience. He was the "chair" of welcome parties in which he had to drink a lot. \+\

"Before the sudden death at a party, the official had symptoms of cirrhosis and myocardial infarction. However, he could not refuse parties and drinking because it was his "mission." During his time in that position, the official’s stomach doubled its size and his face was always blackened. Doctors gave warnings of his oversized waist. Then, the chief of staff died at the age of over 40. \+\

"Mr. LB is considered a "legend" in another province. He was appreciated for the skill in writing speeches and compiling documents. However, he could write after drinking. He was recruited as the assistant to several provincial chairmen, who always took him with them when they received guests. Therefore, he was almost immersed in alcohol. With small and frail stature, LB was famous throughout the province for his drinking "talent." In parties, if anyone could not drink much, they would be advised to go to see LB to learn how to drink. \+\

"Once, on the morning of a Sunday, when LB was about to leave his home to receive guests, his wife, after failing to stop him, cried and said: "I’ve been crying too much because of your drinking. In the future, if you die of alcohol, I will have no more tears for you!" Instead of having sympathy with his wife, LB was very angry that his wife had to run out of the house without wearing her shoes to avoid LB’s angriness. After this, LB was more "famous" in the province. LB often declared "An official must be able to drink. You have to drink to be closer to the people, to share and to understand the people!" Sharing the idea "An official must be able to drink," NH, the vice chairman of a provincial agency, is also a notorious alcoholic. Due to the nature of his work, NH had to visit grassroots organizations very often. Whenever he appeared, parties were held. \+\

"The authorities of a province in the Mekong Delta have realized the consequences of drinking at state agencies so they have issued some regulations on drinking. However, officials can dodge the rules. Many years ago, in a province, when officials were banned from drinking at office, some officials put alcohol into teapots and they drank alcohol like tea. This trick is no longer used but now officials can easily drink during working hours. Just with a phone call, they can argue of going out to handle official missions to enter a restaurant to drink. \+\

Mass Education and Propaganda in Vietnam

Propaganda posters across Vietnam show Ho Chi Minh with the slogans like: "The glorious victory of Communism will last 1,000 years." Ben Stocking of AP wrote: "Thousands of wards across Vietnam make loudspeaker broadcasts, including 577 in Hanoi alone. They tailor the content to their needs, but incorporate lots of information from the Ministry of Culture. In Hien's ward of 20,000 people, 60 loudspeakers on utility polls broadcast messages from a tiny guard house. On a recent day, the reader was Tran Anh Tuyet, a 33-year-old state employee. She read from a government pamphlet called "Happy Family," offering information about an upcoming national census. Then came exhortations to people to "enrich their spiritual life" by skipping TV and attending cultural events instead. "Let's make Hanoi beautiful in the eyes of international friends," she read, urging citizens to create a "polite, cultured environment." The broadcasts often urge listeners to follow the example of Ho Chi Minh, the father of Vietnam's communist revolution: "Live virtuously, work hard, and give your heart to the people."[Source: Ben Stocking, AP, May 17 2009]

But these days it seems no one pays much attention to Communist propaganda anymore. The Victory Day parades are surprisingly lackluster and void of enthusiasm. People chat and laugh and ignore the proceedings and only wave their flags when duty calls on them to do so.

According to the Encyclopedia of Sexuality: "Many aspects of everyday life in Vietnam are politicized through governmental mass education and mass mobilization campaigns. In fields as diverse as diet, marriage, religion, and pregnancy, there are politically right and wrong answers to any question, and everyone knows precisely what is politically correct and socially desirable and what is not. This is particularly true for family planning issues, which have been given a very high priority on the government agenda since the late 1980s. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology ]

Efforts to educate people about sexual issues are exemplified by this National Geographic report: "One morning at the shrimp factory I watched as 700 women in identical white smocks cleaned the shrimp. Suddenly their work was interrupted - all had to stand and watch a video on AIDS prevention. Some cases had appeared in town, a manager told me. That night the scenes were the same in boomtown Nam Can. AIDS is just another risk of frontier living. [Source: National Geographic, February 1993]

Political Education in Vietnam

In his paper “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system,” Dung Hue Doan of Nong Lam University wrote: “Alongside traditional values, socialist morality emphasises the responsibility of the individual towards the nation as a socialist society through the respect of labor and observation of socialist principles. The socialist principles require the full commitment of individuals to the success of socialism. A socialist perspective is also enforced as the only philosophy of life. Because of its rigid view, socialist morality can only be transmitted and delivered through institutionalised channels, formal, obligatory and compulsory. However, this gives rise to quite a dilemma when the market economy has had a gradual impact on individual perspectives about values. In other words, personal achievement in terms of career and wealth are considered as life concerns and life goals by a large number of Vietnamese youth, as found in social research on the conception of ‘success’ of young graduates in Hanoi in 2000. This research concluded that ‘under the socialist regime, everybody could be successful as long as (s)he contributed to the collective and the general cause of building socialism. Now in the market economy, success is no longer an across-the- board notion defined by the socialist state. That is to say, success prior to the 1990s was a ‘‘nationalised’’ notion, but in the doi moi era it has been ‘‘privatised’’’ (Nguyen, 2004, p. 174). [Source: “Moral education or political education in the Vietnamese educational system” by Dung Hue Doan, Nong Lam University, Linh Trung, Thu Duc, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam. Email: doanhuedung@hcm.vnn.vn, Journal of Moral Education |^|]

Besides formal lessons and compulsory courses on morality and politics given at school and university, people of all ages are regularly requested to participate in various social activities which are led by political movements and organizations, consistent either with their age groups or professions. These activities, ranging from contests to campaigns and movements, usually aim to review revolutionary traditions, to train young people to love and respect labor, to preserve socialist values and so on. Popular activities include singing contests to highlight revolutionary music, essay-writing contests on the revolutionary tradition of the Communist, and knowledge contests on the history and tradition of the Communist Party of Vietnam. It is the main job of the Trade Union and The Communist Youth Union in every workplace or residential area to play active roles in leading these activities. |^|

A report from the Chairman of the Trade Union in Quang Nam, a province in Central Vietnam, remarks that there are too many contests being organized, which consume time and money. Twelve contests required by the national Trade Union within nine months is viewed by this Chairman as a big waste of time and money (Nguyen, 2005). Campaigns and movements normally bear strong revolutionary values in their titles, such as ‘the movement of patriotism competition’ (phong trao thi dua yeu nuoc ), or ‘enriching the flame of revolutionary tradition’ (tiep lua truyen thong ). The former urges everyone in his or her own profession and workplace to perform his/her job to the best possible degree, and also to fulfil extra duties in order to contribute more to the cause of nation building. The latter particularly reminds young people to read and think more and more about national heroes and revolutionary soldiers, and to help families of dead soldiers and families which have made a great contribution to the success of the Communist Party. |^|

Vietnamese Leader Lambast Imperialism at Big Communist Party Event

Describing a big Vietnamese Communist Party event in Hanoi, Michael Mathes wrote in the South China Morning Post, "Vietnam's communist vanguard gathered in Hanoi for what was supposed to be a glorious occasion: the 70th anniversary of the country's Communist Party. To the strains of martial music, construction workers spun in pirouettes and traditionally clad ethnic minority women sang hymns praising the glory of Ho Chi Minh, the party's founder and Vietnam's treasured revolutionary icon. Many waved the hammer and sickle flag under the watchful gaze of Marx and Lenin. To the nation's political and military elite who filled the Ba Dinh Meeting Hall, many of whom are genuine battlefield heroes, it may have been a commemoration of personal sacrifice and accomplishment, of battling the evils of imperialism and emerging independent and sovereign. To foreign observers, it was a stern warning that the "gravediggers of colonialism" will brook no rivals to its political regime.[Source: Michael Mathes, South China Morning Post, February 3, 2000 ***]

"We will not accept political hegemony," party General Secretary Le Kha Phieu intoned, elaborating on the various guises international governments and corporations may be employing in their plots to subvert the world's remaining socialist states. Such "hostile forces", he suggested, were looking to wreak havoc on Vietnam's communist idyll. "We should never relax for a minute our vigilance" against them, General Phieu said, claiming that the party's victories, since its inception in 1930, are proof of the correctness of the communist platform. "This reminds me of North Korea," a Vietnamese observer noted during the cabaret-like opening song and dance routine. Many of the foreign envoys listening in on headsets registered similar disbelief. ***

"I'm dumbfounded," said one Western ambassador after the event. "I kept on pinching myself to realise what century I'm in." General Phieu dwelt on the revolutionary accomplishments of the 20th century, but regularly barked out warnings for the future. "Socialist orientation is still our main measure." "This event cements the party's stagnation more than anything else," said another European diplomat. "If you want the party to have a leading role, that's fine, but it should at least lead somewhere," he said. ***

Speaking against a backdrop of portraits of communist founders Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin overlooking a bust of revolutionary hero Ho Chi Minh, Phieu spoke out against freeing up world trade, accusing imperialists of pursuing "absolute profits'' at the expense of developing nations. Imperialists "continue to seek ways to completely wipe out the remaining socialist countries and attack the movements for independence, democracy and social progress,'' "When imperialism speeds up trade and services liberalization and globalization of investment, the rich countries become richer, and the gap between rich and poor countries widens,'' he said. Developing nations "need science and technology, managerial experience and armies of skilled workers, which they could not have under the dominance of imperialists,'' he said. "We are renovating, but we are determined not to change color. The difficulties and challenges will not force us to diverge from the path of socialism,'' [Source: Associated Press, February 2, 2000]

Noisy War-Era Loudspeakers Endure in Vietnam as Propaganda Tools

In 2009, Ben Stocking of AP wrote: "Each day at around 4 p.m., Hoang Thi Gai tries to lull her five-month-old grandson to sleep so that she can prepare supper. About 15 minutes later, a loudspeaker starts blaring just outside her Hanoi home. "He starts screaming and crying and his face turns purple," said Gai, 61. "My dear boy hasn't been able to adapt." [Source: Ben Stocking, AP, May 17 2009 *-*]

"As signs of the Vietnam War fade away in this rapidly modernizing country, one relic is hard to miss: a nationwide network of loudspeakers from which the communist government blasts propaganda at dawn and dusk, 30 minutes at a stretch, whether the public likes it or not. During the Vietnam War, the loudspeakers aired crucial warnings about bombing raids. Today, they broadcast an odd mix of local news, bureaucratic trivia, communist ideology and patriotic songs. "I must admit, for people who live near the speakers, it's a disaster. It hurts their ears," said Pham Van Hien, a Web-savvy Hanoi politician wants to silence the head-rattling messages and put them on the Internet, where people can read them at their leisure. *-*

"Hien, 38, is chairman of the People's Committee in Hanoi's Khuong Mai commune, one of more than 500 such elected officials in the capital. And, like any good politician, he has his finger on the popular pulse. His campaign against the loudspeakers has received resounding support in Vietnamese chat rooms, blogs and newspaper Web sites. "Imagine if you lived near a loudspeaker and someone in your family was terminally ill and had to keep hearing a song like 'There Has Never Been Such A Beautiful Day As Today,'" Hanoi resident Tran Hung wrote to the Tien Phong newspaper's online edition. "It's cruel," he continued. "If my neighbor made that kind of noise, I would take him to court. Why does the government give itself the right to create noise pollution?" *-*

"Hien says his idea has received warm reviews from some of his higher-ups in the Communist Party who are eager to embrace technology and update their party's image. But he is also careful not to push his plan too hard lest he annoy party bosses. Instead he is showing how the system can be modernized, hoping that officialdom will get the message that people should be allowed to "choose to listen rather than be forced to listen." *-*

"When the 7 a.m. loudspeaker broadcasts come on, Nguyen Thi Oanh, 23, buries her head under the blankets. "Who cares about the news they read?" she said. "The sound is so bad, they all sound like they have a stuffy nose." At 68, Nguyen Thi Phuong is old enough to remember the speakers in wartime. "Whenever they warned us about air raids, we rushed to the bomb shelters," she said. "Those speakers saved many lives." But now they're simply annoying, Phuong said. "Putting that information on the Internet is a wonderful idea." *-*

Vietnam's Communists Promise to Fight Poverty and Ward off "Evil Elements"

In 2001, AFP reported: "Vietnam's communist authorities launched their National Assembly's spring session with a pledge to raise living standards and a call for cadres to remain vigilant against hostile forces. Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung also used the opening to focus on the impoverished in the countryside, highlight corruption and push the advancement of Vietnam into a more high-tech age. This would be spearheaded by the government's 10-year development strategy aimed at opening-up key economic zones, rationalising the banking system and at least doubling Gross Domestic Product over that period by raising exports. [Source: Agence France Presse, May 22, 2001 \*\]

"Poverty alleviation would include subsidies to offset the high costs of borrowing for coffee, rice, vegetable and meat producers. Bureaucratic red tape and corruption had to be weeded out to maintain political and social order. Corrupt officials would be severely punished while demanding and receiving bribes had to be eliminated. "It is necessary to carry out measures to tackle the roots of corruption and continue to push reforming the Dung said the government would increase investment for infrastructure in rural areas to create jobs, lift incomes for rural people and stimulate consumption. \*\

"He cited unrest in the central highlands earlier this year, lamenting that "some of our people were fooled, incited or coerced by enemies and evil elements." Dung said a timely response had resulted in a stabilisation of the situation, but he admitted government shortcomings had contributed to the problem which led to at least 300 people fleeing Vietnam for Cambodia. Government failings included: "shortcomings in implementating socio-economic development policy" and "taking care of people's material and spiritual life." \*\

"Through this, the fact requires us to raise our vigilance against hostile forces, their sabotage schemes and actions" and having "the measures to overcome our shortcomings and weaknesses, not only in central highlands but also in other places." Weeding out corruption and introducing economic reforms have topped the government's agenda for the last three years, achieving mixed success. The spring session will sit for one month and was expected to elect a new National Assembly chairman to replace Nong Duc Manh who was elected general secretary of the communist party last month. Only the first day of the National Assembly session is opened to the public. \*\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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