Vietnam should be rightly proud of its record in promoting economic growth and poverty reduction, said United Nations Resident Coordinator in Vietnam Pratibha Mehta.
The UN official made the remark while granting an interview to the Vietnam News Agency on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the National Day (September 2).
Following is the full text of the interview.
Q: On September 2, 1945, in the Declaration of Independence to establish the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, President Ho Chi Minh stressed: “All men are created equally. They are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness”. Throughout the past 70 years, Vietnam has been striving for a better life for its people. What would be your comments on Vietnam’s efforts in promoting human rights, especially with regard to economic growth and poverty reduction?
A: Firstly, I have to congratulate Vietnam on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, and it is a happy coincidence that the UN this year also celebrates its 70th birthday.
Vietnam should be rightly proud of its record in promoting economic growth and poverty reduction. Vietnam’s brave but also well-judged Doi Moi reforms paved the way for enormous expansion in the economy and people’s livelihoods. In the early transition period, growth reached 8 to 9% per year and although this slowed in recent years to around 6%, this is still very strong performance. Due to its focus on agriculture and high employment, alongside a decline in household size, growth has also been highly pro-poor and inclusive. Poverty fell from around 60% in the early 1990s to around only 10% today (on a roughly comparable basis), meeting the MDG 1 target ahead of schedule.
Broader progress in economic and social rights includes a consistently increasing trend in participation of population into the national workforce. By 2014, the employment-to-population ratio reached 76.1%, the highest rate in recent decades. Vietnam marked a record in ensuring the right to housing of its citizens by reducing the proportion of households living in temporary houses down to 5% (from 22.5% in 1999), reaching 90% of the population with access to safe water, and almost all people having access to the national electricity gridline.
Vietnam reaches the universal right to education with 99% of children enrolled in primary school at their right ages. The right to health has been significantly improved as proved through the country’s achievement of MDGs 4 and 5 on reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.
But of course, there are still issues to be addressed in the economy, which needs to make the shift to higher levels of productivity and value-added, and on poverty which is now heavily concentrated in ethnic minority areas. Indeed, ethnic minorities now count for well-over half the poor.
Overall, we see momentum building within Vietnam to join global trends towards respecting the intrinsic value of universal human rights. This is most notable in recent years through its membership of the Human Rights Council, its ratification of 7 of the 9 major Human Rights treaties, its two cycles of Universal Periodic Review, and visits from United Nations Special Rapporteurs.
It is particularly encouraging to see the sincerity of the Government towards fulfilling guarantees contained in the 2013 Constitution and in international human rights instruments to which it is a party. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in the process of finalising an action plan to implement the accepted recommendations of the second Universal Periodic Review cycle, and we note that the public was invited to submit comments to the first draft.
We strongly encourage broad participation by all sectors of Vietnamese society in efforts by the Government to integrate human rights into national development strategies and legislative outcomes. Civil Society is an especially important actor, not just for providing inputs during policy development, but also for their essential role in implementation and monitoring progress. As much as possible, the on-going dialogue on human rights in Vietnam should be brought to the provincial level to ensure as many voices as possible are involved. Vietnam has accepted to consider further visits from Special Rapporteurs and the UN stands ready to support such visits and the follow on actions to implement recommendations.
It is important to recognise that every country has Human Rights challenges to address. The international mechanisms of the United Nations are designed to help Member States assess their domestic laws and policies to identify where progress is needed. The primary challenge for most countries, however, is not in amending legislation to bring them into compliance with international norms; it lies in committing the resources necessary to fully implement the laws that provide human rights protections.
Q: After 2015, the UN will transit from MDGs to SDGs so what would be your recommendations for Vietnam in developing plans, long-term strategies, especially in the context of the 12 th National Party Congress?
A: I would begin by encouraging the Party Congress to keep the values and principles of the 1945 Declaration of Independence to the forefront when developing such plans and strategies. Vietnam has always placed emphasis on the collective happiness and welfare of its people. Equity and adopting a people-centred approach are hardwired within Vietnamese policymaking.
These themes lie at the heart of the highly ambitious SDG framework which will replace the MDGs, and is due to be adopted in the UN General Assembly in September. While underpinned by the same development principles, the SDGs offer a robust framework with concrete benchmarks to both monitor and guide national development plans and policies.
The 17 goals and 169 indicators map out an agenda based on five thematic areas - People, Prosperity, Planet, Peace and Partnerships. The UN advocates that these priorities underpin national development planning. Although rooted in universal human rights, the SDGs permit fitting to diverse national contexts. The SDGs allow for better national tailoring, especially recognizing the challenges faced by Middle Income Countries – such as the need to boost national economies while protecting the environment and maintaining equity, facilitating investment and transfer of technologies, and ensuring modernisation and inclusion of societies.
The question of environmental sustainability is centre stage. This is vital given the growing global threats posed by climate change, and these are especially pertinent to Vietnam which remains one of the world’s most exposed nations. For example, while investment in infrastructure is important, we must examine the impact on both people and the planet.
Additionally, ensuring equity, another key theme of the SDGs, is likely to require more activist policies and measures going forward. This is particularly relevant to MICs like Vietnam where pressures towards greater inequality and vulnerability, due to demographic change, urbanisation and industrialisation tend to emerge. Growth alone can no longer be relied on to eliminate poverty and equally new forms of multi-dimensional poverty have become apparent. This requires renewal and modernisation of targeted programmes to address areas and groups (especially the ethnic minorities) which disproportionately suffer from poverty, improvements in the scope and quality of public services and national investments in social protection to ensure that no-one is left behind.
Vietnam has a lot to show for its successes with the MDGs and can lead the way in localising the new development framework. Yet there are also certain areas of unfinished business which need to be addressed – notably on goals, such as MDG 7 on environmental sustainability where performance could be stronger. This should be the first priority in the post-2015 period.
Meeting the wider SDG agenda will be an ambitious task, but one which would bring together all ingredients characterising a truly people-centred, prosperous and competitive nation. This requires actions on inclusion and equal opportunities, human rights and good governance. It would include building effective and inclusive institutions, adopting sustainable growth policies and building public services to ensure a resilient, healthy, educated and peaceful society.
Q: What will be the UN plan to assist Vietnam to implement the SDGs?
A: The Government of Vietnam and the UN are already in the process of jointly developing plans for UN engagement in the country beyond 2016. This process will be informed by the Government’s socioeconomic plans and policies, as given in the SEDP and the closing MDG assessment, which crucially will identify any areas where outcomes have fallen short of the targets. In Vietnam’s case, these will be very limited however.
The plan will be centred on the SDG framework. It will create space for participation and have Human Rights at its core, but will also prioritise equity and sustainability. The UN will always work in concert with the Government to help it deliver its commitments; and also convene and work alongside other development partners.
As we move towards implementing the Sustainable Development agenda the values of Human Rights and equity become all the more important. This is why ensuring that these common values, whether they are drawn from Vietnam’s founding declaration or from the SDG framework, to the core of national development planning is essential.
The UN will continue to support Vietnam in accessing global best practices, approaches and expertise in economic, social and environmental policy. The UN agencies in Vietnam will also support further global and regional integration, and promote south-south collaboration and regional and global networks and partnerships.
The SDG framework is ambitious and complex, and all countries must mobilise resources, including domestic financing, in a national effort to meet the targets. A specific challenge facing Vietnam is likely to be the progressive decline in overseas aid and concessional lending, so it is also essential to facilitate the effective contribution of private sector partners to development outcomes.
I also want to close by cautioning that securing best value may require changes in the composition of spending. Specifically, economic and social spending is often as valuable as an investment as infrastructure spending. Indeed, experience from some of the most successful MICs shows that outlays like social protection and improved health and education can enhance equity and social outcomes, and also, boost economic growth.
These are big issues for a newly emergent MIC, but rest assured that the UN will continue as a key partner supporting Vietnam in meeting the challenges of the post 2015 world.