Stronger power for successful reform

23-Oct-2018 Intellasia | The Saigon Times | 6:00 AM Print This Post

In view of the power sectionalism in Vietnam, it’s necessary to concentrate power to create a momentum strong enough for overcoming barriers to institutional reform

With the re-recognition of the market economy, the 6th Party Congress has brought about a better life for the people. After overcoming the food crisis and the demand for basic necessities and joining the global market place over the past 30 years, the country needs deeper and broader Doi moi (Renovation) and institutional reform. The 12th Party Congress is closely associated with institutional reform, which some authors call it Reform 2.0. However, apart from clear results in corruption fighting, achievements in institutional reform regarding the business environment and the law-governed state have been unstable. Sub-licenses have been cut but baby permits have sprung up. The situation of “hot at the high level but cool at the low level” and poor coordination among authorities remain due to lackluster improvement in dealing with power sectionalism.

In this context, the concentration of power strong enough to overcome barriers to institutional reform is utterly necessary. The reduction of the decision making powers in the administration system may help policymakers grasp opportunities for national interest quicker and reduce operational costs, but new mechanisms should be in place at the same time to prevent risks.

Overcoming power sectionalism

Division has been common in the Vietnamese history, with examples like the 12 warlords, the war between the Trinh and the Nguyen lords, the French “divide and rule” policy, and the national division at the 17th parallel. Some cultural or religious differences in the Central Highlands and the northwestern region may also threaten national unity and territorial integrity. Therefore, the country seems to continue to need power concentration for some more time to achieve even, stable unification, especially given its geo-political position targeted for separation attempts by powers.

During the war, all people were fully devoted to national liberation and reunification, so there were no such things as “sub-licenses” and “slush funds.” The need for power sectionalism by ministries and government agencies seemed almost non-existent, as it did not generate benefits like those gained in the infant stage of the market economy.

In the market economy, the state administration model has been maintained, but power can now generate lots of money, especially when it is not properly controlled. Power sectionalism is associated with benefits, and so this practice has grown fast under diverse, sophisticated forms like the chameleon which can change its colors.

For example, after the 1999 Enterprise Law was approved, then prime minister Phan Van Khai formed a task force responsible for supervising the implementation of the law and issued Decision 19/2000/QD-TTg to deal with sub-licenses and unreasonable permits. I had a chance to read the minute of a working session between the prime minister and the team, and came to the understanding of the limit of the government leader’s power when a minister ignored his decision regarding the taxi business, simply because he had no power to pick the minister though Article 84 of Clause 7 in the 1992 Constitution states that the prime minister can nominate ministers to the National Assembly for approval. In this case, the minister concerned is an official under the management of the Politburo; so the prime minister and the majority of National Assembly deputies, as Party members, must observe the Politburo’s lines.

Similarly, after the 2014 Enterprise Law and the 2014 Investment Law were approved, prime minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc issued Decision 1672/QD-TTg dated September 28, 2015 on setting up a task force in charge of supervising the implementation of the two laws.

The prime minister and the government can exercise only part of the executive power, as the ministers are nominated by different agencies and managed by the Politburo. Therefore, two ministries in the government at times have to sign a cooperation agreement. The drafting of decrees and legal documents is assumed by a separate ministry, which, for its own interest, has created an overlapping legal system, with some 5,600 documents against the law issued in 2017 alone.

Power sectionalism also exists in the relationship between the central government and local authorities. An example is a Party secretary of a southern province, who ignored the supervision of National Assembly deputies to put it flatly, “As long as I remain the Party secretary, I will not accept this [administrative] sentence.” The case of Vu Nhom, a business tycoon, and violations in other localities reveal the law defiance attitude of a number of local leaders.

Reform is beneficial for the people and the Party, but it also reduces the privileges and benefits of interest groups. They are the very strongest opponents to reform, not any external forces. So, the power concentration must be strong enough to get over those groups. Acemoglu, the author of the famous book “Why Nations Fail?” argues that the central power must be concentrated strong enough to force local powers to abide by the law, and this is a prerequisite for the success of a nation. In this regard, the Philippines is seen as a typical failure.

The dual executive system

The executive power always plays the central role among the three powers (legislative, executive and judiciary). The armed forces, the executive tool of this power, assumes the primary role in law enforcement and national defense. A strong executive power is effective in war but easily turns to dictatorship in peace. Therefore, only a few countries with a democratic tradition and synchronous mechanisms for executive power control can accept the presidential system like that in the US Most countries adopt the parliamentary system to ensure the strict control of the legislative power over the executive power, with the rights to form a government and put the no-confidence vote to force it to resign.

However, the no-confidence vote may cause political instability, which is especially critical with regard to national defense and foreign relations. Therefore, general Charles de Gaulle of France made some modification to the 1958 Constitution to create the dual executive system. With this system, the president is directly elected by the people; responsible for national defense, foreign relations and major national policies; and not subject to parliamentary vote of no confidence so as to maintain political stability. Meanwhile, the prime minister, who is in charge of economic and domestic issues, is elected by the parliament and may be subject to its no-confidence vote, which is seen as a way to response quickly to new trends and movements in society as well as to share the executive power of the president to avoid excessive power concentration.

The dual executive system has been a popular choice of eastern European countries since the 1990s. The political institution in Vietnam will have many advantages like those of the dual executive system if the titles of State president and Party general secretary are unified. However, the unification should be made alongside the renovation of the Party leadership, further democratisation within the Party, stronger public criticism and media supervision, and better performance of the independent court system.

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Category: Economy, Vietnam

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