Speech by United Nations Resident Coordinator, Ms Pratibha Mehta at the ethnic minority development forum

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Date: Thursday 29th January 2015
Event: EM Forum: Mainstreaming ethnic minority development in the 2016-202 national policy framework
Venue: Melia Hotel

His Excellency Mr. Danh Ut, Vice Chairman of the Ethnic Minority Council of the National Assembly;
Vice Minister Mr. Son Phuoc Hoan, Vice Chairman of CEMA;
His Excellency Mr. Damien Cole Ambassador of the Republic of Ireland;
Representatives of line ministries and EM communities;
Representatives of international organizations and NGOs;
Ladies and gentlemen.

Good morning and a warm welcome to this first Ethnic Minority Forum of 2015. Established in 2008, and hosted jointly by CEMA, these events have come to represent an important mechanism for multi-stakeholder dialogue and the advancement of ethnic minority peoples and the development of their communities.  Many positive policy choices can be directly traced to these events – including the maintenance of government’s resource commitment to these communities, recognition of closing inter-community disparities as a major development priority in Viet Nam, and the adoption of more culturally aware policymaking and programming.  

Today’s theme - that of mainstreaming ethnic minority development within national strategic policymaking - is very timely.  Globally, 2015 promises to be momentous, as the final year of the MDG cycle, and adoption by UN member states, of the post 2015 Sustainable Development Goals framework. Equally in Viet Nam, we will see the formulation of the 2016-2020 Socio-Economic Development Plan, informed by the extensive 30 years post-Doi Moi review carried out over the last 12 months.  Additionally, in line with the Prime Minister’s decision, CEMA, in close cooperation with MPI and line ministries, has undertaken a major planning and prioritization exercise under an Action Plan specifically for ethnic minority communities, using the MDG Acceleration Framework, the MAP-EM.  This initiative, launched in mid-2014, has indentified tangible priorities and actions, for addressing the disparities between majority and minority populations.  We will hear more about this important work during today’s sessions.

I want to begin by emphasizing the complementarities and shared themes of the global and national processes, and importance of the SEDP and the MDG Action plan for EM (MAPEM) informing and cross-fertilizing each other. Securing overall equity and inclusion are pressing domestic policy challenges in Viet Nam, and within this, tackling the continuing disparities suffered by the ethnic minorities is, perhaps, the most urgent priority.  

Viet Nam’s internationally recognized success - which has transformed the lives of millions of Vietnamese over the last thirty years - has not fully yet been shared by all. In spite of commendable efforts and considerable resources, poverty reduction and MDG achievement in ethnic minority communities still severely lags behind national performance. This is most clear in relation to poverty, where more than half the remaining poor come from minorities groups, but it is also relevant in a number of the other goals, notably maternal and child mortality and in educational attainment.  

Tackling this unfinished MDG agenda, and meeting new commitments arising out of the SDGs, must be an absolute priority therefore. The MAP-EM, and other instruments developed by CEMA, should come forward with viable strategies for poverty eradication and rapid catch-up - and equally - developmental underperformance in minority areas must become a central theme of the 2016-2020 SEDP, sector plans and the renewed poverty reduction policy framework. This requires matching or expanding the current level of resources, the adoption of concrete goals and targets, the design of innovative solutions and actions, and building a more effective system of identifying needs of ethnic minority women and men, and tracking implementation and outcomes.

This prioritization of ethnic minority issues should also apply to the cooperation between Viet Nam and the United Nations agencies, the international financial institutions and bilateral development partners.   

The VDPF Follow-Up Action Plan formulated by the joint Government– development partner Ethnic Minority Poverty Reduction Working Group, and the MAP-EM initiative developed by CEMA and MPI, provide important inputs to the SEDP and development programming.  And it would be advantageous if these approaches and their outputs were explicitly linked to the SEDP development process.  

As Government finalizes the MAP-EM and frames the SEDP, I have three more specific sets recommendations to make.  Within each, I seek to identify a stronger role for CEMA as a champion and advocate for the ethnic minorities.   

The first relate to how Viet Nam might address the tendencies towards inequality which emerge as countries grow and develop, and are especially strong in MICs. Indeed, Viet Nam’s accelerated growth achieved through industrialization and greater agricultural value added, along with trade liberalization, runs the risk of excluding the poor and near poor as it is likely new opportunities will favour emergent industries and highly skilled workers, predominately located in and around the major cities. Without decisive policy actions, prosperity may not filter down to more peripheral areas and groups, and thus the gaps between rich and poor, and majority and minority, populations may grow wider.

The experience of middle income countries and that of Viet Nam’s early Doi Moi period, show that it is possible to avoid a trade-off between equity and efficiency. The developmental gaps between ethnic minorities and the majority are not inevitable and can be closed by greater inclusion of minorities in the country’s socio-economic and political life.

Relevant measures include investing in higher productivity jobs and better income generation activities in ethnic minority areas, linking local producers to national markets and to international value chains. The key is to maximize utilization of the human and natural resources in these areas, and to recognize the productive value of diversity. In turn, the national economy can be grown through enhancing all peoples’ capacity to seize new development opportunities and unlock their full potentials.

Effective protection of minority people’s rights to land and capital to build their livelihoods and empowering them to seek employment through user-driven and market-relevant vocational training are important inputs.  It is also vital that greater access to quality health and educational services is secured for all.  CEMA has a special role to play as an interlocutor between communities and service providers. Such investments will directly enable Ethnic Minority people to contribute to, and benefit from, mainstream development process.    
Such a ‘win-win’ approach is fully recognised in Government Resolution 80 which calls for the mainstreaming of poverty reduction policies within all line ministry plans and policy frameworks, while giving priority to the most challenged communes. It is encouraging that the Government has recognized the importance of designing and implementing policies to ensure all citizens and locations benefit, and committed itself to an equity and inclusion focused SEDP and to renewal of the national poverty reduction framework. The MAP-EM, championed by CEMA, offers a bridge to ensure that the special needs of Ethnic Minorities are reflected in these instruments.  A key task it faces is to systemize and institutionalize these linkages.

Second, policy commitments need to be matched by effective implementation mechanisms if they are to make a real and lasting difference to peoples’ lives. It is vital that the SEDP and the new Poverty Reduction Framework drive a major institutional re-think and reorientation of policy planning versus service delivery functions. This should include redefinition of the role of the central authorities, to oversee, monitor and regulate; and that of provincial, district and commune levels, to empower and deliver services, by harnessing their greater responsiveness and adaptability.  There is also a need to recognize, though both policymaking and the training of a cadre of officials, the importance of culturally-aware public administration. Specifically, this includes communicating in local languages and taking account of how different social contexts impact on needs and service delivery. Moreover, serious consideration should be given to the devolution of authority and resources via a system of block grants to minority communities themselves, who are best placed to identify and meet their own local priorities, appropriate to their culture and traditions.

CEMA must take the lead in driving this new thinking as the representative of these communities.  But I also must highlight giving a greater voice to Ethnic Minority people, especially women, and their own organizations, for enhancing Government performance and achieving community development. International experiences as well as in Viet Nam show that empowered local civil society organizations can be genuine partners, including in the delivery of services, and have been demonstrating their potential to make real and lasting contributions.  It is timely that Government and development partners capitalize on this potential.

Thirdly, I underline the importance of building resilience to shocks within these communities. Without greater resilience positive outcomes cannot be secured and sustained.  Viet Nam remains exceptionally exposed - due both to its high degree of integration with global trade and a series of environmental pressures further exacerbated by climate change.  These are especially significant for ethnic minority areas and for ethnic minority populations due to their high level of family and personal vulnerability. Policy goals should include both building self-reliance via better skills and greater value-added production but also via public provision – the building of new infrastructure to secure against extreme events and adapt to climate change, and the development of a modern system of Life Cycle-based social protection.  

I close by making clear that Viet Nam can secure a better future for all of its citizens by unlocking the full potential of minority groups’ still under-utilized human resource, and by recognizing that ethnic and cultural diversity is central to its history and vital for their future.  This requires a mainstreaming of policies to benefit the ethnic minorities, but also a stronger and more assertive CEMA.   

Combating inequity and social exclusion, alongside climate change, are the defining policy challenges of our age. I reiterate my message delivered at December’s Development Partners Forum - it is pivotal that our collective efforts seek to leave no one out and leave no one behind. I re-affirm the commitment of the United Nations in Viet Nam to support these endeavours in any way that we can.

Xin cam on!