British parliamentarians offer sage advice

September 26, 2011 | 10:00
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A UK Houses of Parliament delegation last week  visited Vietnam to leverage relations between the UK and Vietnam, which are now strategic partners under a deal signed late last year.
Chris Ruane

VIR’s Nguyen Hanh talks with UK Member of Parliament and delegation head Chris Ruane on the state of relations and what Vietnam’s National Assembly should do to perform better.

The UK is one of seven countries Vietnam has signed a strategic partnership agreement with. The others are China, Japan, India, Russia, South Korea and Spain. The deal reflects Vietnam’s increased interest in its relationship with the UK. What about Vietnam’s position in the eyes of the UK parliament and government?

I think Vietnam recognises that the UK is a leading power in Europe and a leading power in the world and we recognise that Vietnam is a leading power in South East Asia and has good contacts with many other countries in the region. The aim of our trip this time is to build the relationship with your National Assembly and with Vietnamese businesses to encourage trade and also review Vietnam as a strategic partner in the whole of South East Asia.

Vietnam is a young and dynamic country with an impressive economic growth record. In bad times like today Vietnam is still achieving a 6 per cent growth rate, while in the UK it’s zero or 0.5 per cent. Vietnam is making reforms slowly, but surely within the confidence of your people and lifting a lot of people out of poverty. All of these achievements should be recognised.

The list of countries with biggest direct investments in Vietnam shows the UK stands a distant 17th. Do UK companies have little understanding of Vietnam’s business landscape or our business climate is just not warm enough?

British universities are lining up to develop links with Vietnam to provide education within Vietnam and for Vietnamese students to study in the UK. Other areas like science, knowledge-based areas which are underdeveloped in Vietnam are great reasons for us to be interested in as there is a lot potential for high growth from a low base. I also know your government is interested in developing financial services and they see London as one of the economic centres of the world. Those are great potential areas for future investment. Investment will flow to where ever there is the best return and Vietnam is in a good position at the moment.

Do you think the euro zone’s financial distress has made the UK pay more attention to economic interests in the East, including Vietnam?

I think how Europe develops in the future will depend a lot on the East, China especially with its vast forex reserves. It’s not just China but emerging economies like Vietnam, India and others. Our futures are more interlinked today then they ever have been before.

Your delegation and Vietnam’s National Assembly deputies exchanged experiences and ideas on parliamentary oversight. What should our National Assembly do to improve its role given the fact that just 30 per cent of its members are full-time and it only meets two times a year?

The concept of a part time parliamentary member is alien to me. I work 70-80 hours a week in the parliament and in our constituency. I think being a member of parliament (MP) should be a full time job and the MP should focus down on representing the people. So we would encourage full-time MPs in Vietnam. Also, with more transparency good things will flourish for a better economy, a better education and a better society.

There is concern that the increased ratio of entrepreneurs as members of our newly-elected National Assembly means there will be a greater interest group influence on policy-making. What is your view?

There’s a saying in the West that money talks. If you want to grow your economy you need business people who can help you do that. But the balance has to be right between the entrepreneurs, between rural areas and urban areas, between the rich and the poor, you need people from various backgrounds and people from different geographical areas. Your National Assembly has representation from various geographical areas. That’s admirable. But it’s a fine balancing act to make sure that all voices in Vietnam are heard.

In recent years we have seen National Assembly members become more aggressive when questioning government executives at forums. Many times deputies complained that cabinet members had not made good on their promises. What should National Assembly delegates do to push government executives to perform?

I think again it comes down to accountability. The government should be measured. If your government said it’s gonna do this and this and this, that needs to be conveyed to the people. And after one year, two years or three years, you need to revisit that to see whether the government has actually done what it promised and ask the question why, if it hasn’t. To do that in a meaningful way we need a critical media that’s strong enough. In the West, MPs have been lampooned, laughed at and demonised by the press, but it’s the price we’re paying because it makes us humble and brings us into account.

By Nguyen Hanh

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