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Speech by UN Resident Coordinator John Hendra at the opening of the National Conference: XII National Assembly - Dialogue on Critical Reforms for Institutional Development

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john_speech_newDate: Monday 30 August, 2010
Opening of the National Conference: XII National Assembly - Dialogue on Critical Reforms for Institutional Development
Hoi An, Quang Nam Province
: United Nations Resident Coordinator in Viet Nam, Mr. John Hendra

Your Excellencies,
Mr Nguyen Duc Kien, Vice-chairman of the National Assembly of Viet Nam,
Mr. Nguyen Van Sy, Head of the delegation of Quang Nam Province
Honorable Members of the National Assembly,
Distinguished colleagues from the diplomatic corps and donor community,
Ladies and gentlemen,

Three years ago, as the 12th National Assembly was inaugurated, we gathered together in the neighboring city of Da Nang to discuss the expectations and challenges ahead.  This Conference in Hoi An, like the previous one, is part of the UN’s cooperation with the Office of the National Assembly to strengthen the capacity of representative bodies in Viet Nam, and it is a privilege and a real pleasure for me to open this event jointly with Vice Chairman Kien.

In addition to furthering the ongoing dialogue and cooperation between the National Assembly and the international community, these two days present a unique opportunity to review, in a collegial atmosphere, the steps that have been taken by the National Assembly in its institutional reform process, and to reflect on important changes in the Assembly’s work during the 12th legislature.  

In short, one can already see a number of positive changes in the institution’s development during this 12th legislature. The degree of professionalism has increased with a higher number of full-time MPs, and the role of committees has also been strengthened; committees have scrutinized draft laws more critically; the Committee on Social Affairs has initiated legislation; and new Committees on Budget and Finance and on Justice have contributed to additional specialization in these critical areas.

The National Assembly’s “Question Time”, which the citizens of Viet Nam follow very closely, has shown the determination of many Deputies to seek substantive responses from the questioned ministers on issues of interest and concern to their national or local constituencies. The Assembly has also importantly demonstrated assertiveness on matters of national interest, including the recent vote on the proposed high-speed railway project.

Against this background I think it is fair to say that the National Assembly is evolving, as part of Viet Nam’s reform process, into a more powerful, a more relevant and a more effective institution within the political system.

Indeed, the continuity and improvement of these parliamentary activities are critical if the National Assembly is to make its full contribution to Viet Nam’s continued development, particularly as the country enters middle-income status. That being said, the challenges ahead are not to be underestimated; they will require a legislature that is active, articulate and effective.

Increasing the number of full-time Deputies as the result of the 2011 elections is a necessity to further professionalize the work of the National Assembly in general. Reducing turnover and striking a better balance between re-elected and newly elected MPs would also tangibly contribute to the continuity of the Assembly’s work.  

Equally important will be development of information and research services that provide Deputies and committees with timely, impartial and authoritative information for objective scrutiny of legislation and policies.  In addition, investing in technical specialization of staff under a merit-based recruitment and promotion system should be a priority.  

The reform of the National Assembly, although gradual, requires long-term vision.  In this context, the National Assembly would benefit from strategic planning to increase its representation, legislation and oversight capacities.

For example, priority could be given to ensuring a regular, two-way substantive dialogue between Deputies and their constituents, and to institutionalizing public consultation mechanisms in the legislative process. The Assembly has at its disposal various oversight instruments such as written and oral questions to the government; inspection missions; votes of no-confidence; the right to request information from government; committees of inquiry and public hearings.   

While some of these tools have been applied for several years now, others have not yet been developed or put into practice. The constructive and appropriate use of these instruments will enable the Assembly to better conduct its oversight role and help contribute to more effective legislative and policy outcomes.

More broadly, it’s important to contextualize the constitutional role of the National Assembly within the current circumstances and goals of Viet Nam.  The complexity of the development process today, including Viet Nam’s continued integration into the global economy, is accompanied by increasing demands for inclusiveness, transparency, accountability and public participation in decision-making processes. The National Assembly, given its mandate, is called upon to play a critical role in ensuring these principles.

Your actions as Members of Parliament can make a significant contribution to inclusive, equitable and sustainable development. Key to this are the representation and oversight functions, which offer opportunities for an objective evaluation of the real needs of citizens and the government’s responsiveness to them. The rigorous performance of these functions allows the National Assembly to improve public policies and budgetary commitments and ensure their efficient and effective use.  This will be required to successfully pursue and manage policy reforms - especially policies for social inclusion, comprehensive social protection and ensuring equity.

Closely linked to the challenges and opportunities is the other purpose of this Conference: the National Assembly’s partnership with the international community. We have the benefit of senior representation here from diplomatic missions, aid organizations and other international bodies.

I understand that the National Assembly has established a Board for Aid Coordination. We hope that through this organ, international cooperation can become more strategic and overall aid effectiveness in this key area maximized. As a long-term partner of the National Assembly, we in the UN very much look forward to this policy dialogue, and, on our part, we will continue to give priority to enhancing coordination and providing high quality technical support.  

In this context, I am delighted that the Inter-Parliamentary Union has joined us as a key partner of this initiative, providing two distinguished resource persons to share their experience, knowledge and specific expertise.  Mr. Paul McGrath is a recently retired MP with 18 years of service in the Irish Parliament while Mr. Leon Kieres, who in his 20-year political career has worked at both local and national levels, is currently a Member of the Senate of the Republic of Poland. On behalf of everyone here today I would like to thank you both very much for joining us and for the comparative perspective you both will bring to our discussions.

In closing, I would like to thank the National Assembly and my United Nations colleagues for their work in organizing this Conference, and in particular for designing a programme that touches on the key dimensions of the Assembly’s core reforms. I am sure that our discussions here in Hoi An will usefully contribute to the performance review that the National Assembly is currently engaged in.  And, like all of you, I very much look forward to seeing the benefits for the Vietnamese people of a stronger, a more capable and an even more professional National Assembly.

I wish you all good health and happiness, and a very successful Conference.

Thank you.


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