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Assessing the policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers in Vietnam
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Illustrative photo. Photo: VNA

An overview of the policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers in Vietnam

The multi-layer state administrative structure requires a clear definition of responsibilities and authority of each level. The division of state powers to different state agencies is a way to most effectively use state power, and avoid abuse of state power for individual's interests, and "group interests." The common trend in modern democratic states is the more society develops, the stronger the decentralization becomes, local authorities are given more duties and authority.

The policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers is manifested in legal provisions on defining tasks and power among state administrative agencies at all levels in order to promote their autonomy and creativity in exercising state powers, ensuring that state administrative agencies at all levels perform state management and provide public services efficiently and effectively.

The policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers in Vietnam has been put forth by the State since the country gained independence and perfected through development stages of the country. Through a system of legal documents on functions, responsibilities and powers of each level of administration from the central to the local levels, the policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers in Vietnam has been formed and gradually completed.

It is in the early days of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, decentralization and assignment of powers were already paid attention to by the Provisional Government. This was reflected in the first documents (namely Decree No.63, dated 22 November 1945 and Decree No. 76, dated 21 December 1945, regulating the organization and operation of the People’s Council and Administrative Committees in localities). The policy on decentralization and assignment of powers has been adjusted and supplemented from time to time, depending on socio-economic development, capability of the administration levels in the state administrative apparatus and requirements to raise effectiveness and efficiency of the state administrative apparatus, and clearly reflected in the 1946, 1959, 1980, 1992 Constitutions and laws on organization of the State apparatus of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam.

Since 2000, significant changes have been made in state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers with the promulgation of the Law on Organization of the Government in 2001 and the Law on Organization of People's Councils and People's Committees in 2003. In particular, the Resolution of the 9th Plenum of the 9th National Assembly set out the task "Urgently completing decentralization and assignment of powers from the central to local levels in each branch, each field in a synchronous manner, ensuring effective unified management of the Central over localities while encouraging the creativity and self-responsibility of localities.”(1) On 20 June 2004, the Government issued Resolution No.08/2004/NQ-CP on "Continuing to promote state management decentralization from the Government to administrations of provinces and centrally-run cities," focusing on key areas, such as management of planning, plans, development investment, state budget, land, natural resources, state-owned enterprises, non-business activities, public services; organizational apparatus, cadres and public employees.

The 2013 Constitution was adopted by the National Assembly of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on 28 November 2013 with new important provisions in Chapter IX - "Local Administration." Subsequently, the Law on Organization of the Government and the Law on Organization of Local Administration were issued in 2015, showing important innovations in state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers. On 21 March 2016, the Government continued to issue Resolution No. 21/2016/NQ-CP on state management decentralization from the Government to People's Committees of provinces and centrally-run cities in 5 areas: state budget management; state enterprises management; public investment management; management of public affairs, cadres, public employees, civil servants; and land management. In addition to documents stipulating viewpoints, objectives and orientation of administrative decentralization and assignment of powers, legal documents in different fields also reflect the policy on decentralization and assignment of powers in specific areas.

The policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers through the above-mentioned legal documents shows the viewpoints, objectives, contents and solutions of decentralization and assignment of powers. These legal documents constitute a framework policy for state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers and require strong renovation in the organization and operation of local administrations, better facilitating decentralization (along with assignment of powers) of the state administrative apparatus from the central to the local levels.

Changes to complete the policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers from 2001

An overview of changes in the policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers from 2001 up to now highlights two important milestones:

1.The policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers according to the Law on Organization of the Government in 2001 and the Law on Organization of People's Councils and People's Committees in 2003.

The 2001 Law on Organization of the Government assigned the Government the authority to decide and direct the allotment and decentralization in sectors and fields in the state administrative system (Article 16). This is a great authority vested in the Government. In order to exercise this authority, the Government developed documents to create a legal framework for allotment and decentralization.

The Law on Organization of People's Councils and People's Committees in 2003 stipulated in detail the power of each administrative level, including provincial, district and commune levels. These specific regulations created the basic legal basis for the operation of local administrative levels, avoiding management overlapping and encroaching.

Resolution No.08/2004/NQ-CP of the Government, "on continuing stepping up decentralization from the Government to administrations in provinces and centrally-run cities" with the goal "continuing stepping up the decentralization from the Government to administrations in provinces and centrally-run cities" sets out specific decentralization orientations in the areas of planning management, plans and development investment, state budget management; land, resources, state asset management; state-owned enterprise management; management of non-business services and public services; organizational apparatus, cadres and public servants.

The policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers in that period created positive changes in the operation of local administrations as well as ministries and central branches and sectors. Decentralization associated with administrative procedure reform reduced troublesome, quickened procedure process for citizens and businesses in many fields, especially in land, investment, construction and enterprise establishment. The strong decentralization from the Government and the ministries and branches at the central level to provinces and centrally-run cities facilitated the organization of multi-sector and multi-disciplinary management ministries and a more streamlined Government.

However, the policy on state decentralization and assignment of powers in that period still revealed significant shortcomings. The 2001 Law on Organization of the Government stipulated the authority of the Government on administrative allotment and decentralization. However, the government's policy on administrative allotment and decentralization was still incomplete, resulting in several problems in the decentralization from the central to local authorities. Solutions for decentralization and assignment of powers from the Government to local authorities were not consistent and did not yet clearly define the tasks, authority and responsibilities of each administration level. Many localities maintained that decentralization and assignment of powers were not strong enough; ministries and branches at the central level still embrace jobs. Local authorities did not have yet necessary authority and conditions to proactively perform tasks and powers that they can do.

2- The policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers according to the 2015 Law on Organization of the Government and the 2015 Law on the Organization of Local Administration.

The 2013 Constitution lays the foundation for the decentralization and assignment of powers from the central to local levels, stipulating that "The local administration organizes and ensures the implementation of the Constitution and laws in the locality; decides local issues prescribed by law; subject to inspection and supervision by superior state agencies .” (Article 112)

In that spirit, the 2015 Law on Organization of the Government and the 2015 Law on Organization of Local Administration makes an important step in state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers as follows:

First, for the first time, in the legal documents, the State of Vietnam affirms the authority of the Government in implementing decentralization of responsibilities and assignment of powers to local administrations (the 2001 Law on Organization of the Government only stipulated the competence of allotment of tasks and decentralization, and not yet assignment of powers.) The Government’s supplemented competence of assigning powers to local administrations is a new step in the policy of decentralization and assignment of powers in Vietnam.

Second, the 2015 Law on Organization of the Government clearly stipulates that the Government’s competence of decentralization and assignment of powers must be in line with laws, resolutions of the National Assembly, ordinances and resolutions of the National Assembly Standing Committee (Article 25). Article 12 of the 2015 Law on Organization of Local Administration also affirms that "Assignment of powers for each level of local administration shall be stipulated in laws." This means that decentralization and assignment of powers to local administrations must be based on a basic legal framework, ensuring the principle of socialist rule of law.

The decentralization and assignment of powers must ensure principles and must be stipulated in legal documents of the decentralizing state agencies, clearly defining the tasks and powers of local administrations or subordinate state agencies, responsibilities of decentralizing state agencies and decentralized state agencies.

Third, the above-mentioned laws stipulate more clearly requirements and conditions for decentralization and assignment of powers from the central to local levels as well as between the local authorities. Article 13 of the 2015 Law on Organization of Local Administration states: “Based on the requirements of work, implementation capacity, conditions, specific local situation, central and local state agencies have the authority to decentralize to local administrations or subordinate state agencies one or several tasks and authority pertaining to their competence for continuous and regular implementation, unless otherwise provided for by law.” At the same time, the law states that when decentralizing tasks and powers to local administrations or subordinate state agencies, superior state agencies shall ensure resources and other necessary conditions for the performance of those tasks, give guidance and supervise the implementation of those tasks and powers and hold responsibility for the implementation of the tasks and powers by the decentralized administrations and agencies.

Fourth, the above-mentioned laws clearly identify that the decentralized state agencies are responsible for the implementation of decentralized tasks and powers before the state decentralizing agencies. Based on concrete situation of localities, local state agencies may further decentralize tasks and powers to local administrations or subordinate state agencies at lower levels with the approval of the superior state agencies.

The superior state agencies, within the scope of their tasks and authority are responsible for constitutional and legal inspection and control of the implementation of the tasks and powers of decentralized local administrations at all levels.

Implementing provisions on management decentralization in the 2015 Law on Government Organization and 2015 Law on Organization of Local Administration, the Government issued Resolution No.21/NQ-CP, dated 21 March 2016 on "Decentralization of State Management from the Government to People's Committees of provinces and centrally-run cities." The Resolution clearly identifies objectives "Enhancing the effectiveness and efficiency of state management over sectors and branches on the basis of rational and clear decentralization of tasks, powers and responsibilities between the Government, the Prime Minister, ministries, ministerial-level agencies and People's Committees of provinces and centrally-run cities (hereinafter referred to as provincial level), ensuring the unified management of the Government, promoting proactivity, responsibility, and creativity of local administrations.” The Resolution also sets out some specific orientations on decentralization in 5 areas: state budget management; state enterprises management; public investment management; management of public affairs, cadres, public employees, civil servants; and land management.

Thus, with the 2015 Law on Organization of the Government and the 2015 Law on Organization of Local Administration, important steps have been made in the policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers, institutionalizing the Party’s lines on stepping up reforms of the state apparatus’ organization and operation in general and of local administrations in particular.

Assessing the policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers

It can be said that the development and implementation of the policy on administrative decentralization and assignment of powers have made radical changes since 2001. These successes include:

First, the legal document system with regulations on allotment, decentralization and assignment of powers from the central to local administration, as well as among local administrations. The issue of allotment and decentralization was only stipulated in principle in the 2001 Law on Organization of the Government. Then it was supplemented, improved and elevated to a higher level in the 2015 Law on Organization of the Government and the 2015 Law on Organization of Local Administration.

Second, the policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers between administrative levels has been clearly demonstrated in the above laws in terms of principle and requirements, and concretized in some important areas of state governance.

Third, basically, there are specific regulations on the functions and tasks of the central and local administrations including promoting the proactivity and creativity of administrations at lower levels on the basis of conditions and capabilities of each administrative level.

Fourth, the role of local administrative levels is increasingly confirmed in the policy on decentralization and assignment of powers. Therefore, the development of each locality depends largely on local administration’s dynamism and creativity.

Currently, the policy on decentralization and assignment of powers from the central to the local administrations has been relatively clear and comprehensive. Basically, local administrations have implemented the policy in a unified manner, improving their autonomy in managing and using local resources, bringing administration closer to local specific socio-economic characteristics, better serving local needs and requirements.

However, besides the above important results, the policy has also posed some problems as follows:

First, the system of policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers is not synchronized, or even is only in principle and requirements with no specific mechanisms. The 2015 Law on Organization of the Government affirms that the decentralization and assignment of powers must follow the law and resolutions of the National Assembly, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly; or the 2015 Law on Organization of Local Administration regulates in principle the decentralization and assignment of powers. However, all of these contents are only in principle, scattered in the two laws.

The policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers cannot be effective if there is no synchronous, complete and unified legal framework. Without mechanisms, implementation strategy and sanctions, the policy can hardly be effectively materialized. Studies on the current policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers in Vietnam identify that this is the biggest "gap" that needs to be bridged.

Second, division of responsibilities and powers of the central and local levels, as well as among the local administration levels in some areas is irrational or unclear, leading to constraints in different dimensions. For example, in the field of state administrative apparatus organization, the authority to decide the number, duties, powers and organizational structure of professional agencies of the People's Committees at all levels belongs to the Government. In the field of state administrative personnel management, agencies directly using public servants have not full autonomy. Provincial People's Committees do not have the authority to recruit new personnel they need without additional allocation of payroll quotas, define selection norms, or choose forms of recruitment examination. In state budget decentralization, the authority of state budget allocation and expenditure at local levels is vested with provincial administrations. There are no concrete stipulations in law on decentralization to district and commune levels. This results in concentration of resources at provincial level; the administration at lower levels cannot implement assigned tasks proactively.

On the other hand, some areas are too widely decentralized while administrations at lower levels are not capable enough. This leads to uncontrollable situation and negative phenomena, typically decentralization and assignment of land management. As districts are assigned to issue land use plans, as well as land registration certificates, the number of land use plans is too high which leads to many "unimplemented" plans; wrong issuance of land certificates for personal interests and rampant corruption in land management.

Third, according to the 2015 Law on Organization of Local Administration, the organization model of local administrations at all levels and localities is very similar, and is applied to different administrative-territorial units (mountainous, island areas). This causes difficulties, failing to promote the strengths of each locality, limiting diversified development of localities. In principle, a uniform model may not be applicable to all localities. Similarly, decentralization and assignment cannot be applied the same way, because they must depend on conditions and ability of each locality. Unlike rural areas, the urban area is a highly populated community, a unified, closely-bound, directly inter-dependent socio-economic entity, so the urban administration must be concentrated, unified, operating smoothly, quickly, uninterruptedly like that in rural areas. Therefore, decentralization and assignment of powers to urban administration must be consistent with the above-mentioned characteristics, ensuring that it has appropriate authority and responsibilities for practical and effective urban management.

Fourth, local administrations have not yet had sufficient power and necessary conditions to proactively perform the tasks that it can solve. Lack of decentralization and assignment of powers denies localities power to perform work that they are able to; vice versa, the superior agencies are unable but have powers, resulting in congestion, delay, and inefficiency. Local administration bodies, especially the People's Councils in some localities, are nominal with low efficient performance. Many local administration bodies lack dynamism and creativity. Conditions such as personnel, organization, finance, budget, facilities for local administrations to implement decentralized tasks and powers are not guaranteed. This contradiction will certainly affect the performance effectiveness and efficiency of local administrations at all levels.

Fifth, the policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers are closely linked with requirements of inspection and supervision. However, specific legal corridor on this issue has not been developed, especially sanctions for violations of decentralization and assignment of powers. For example, in recent years, state agencies at the central and higher levels lack responsibility in guiding, inspecting, supervising and monitoring subordinates which leads to "bulging" organizational apparatus and the number of staff. The control and inspection of the central government toward local administration agencies in the process of decentralization and assignment of powers do not strict; several localities have taken advantage of decentralization and assignment of powers to make decisions and implement policies in favor of local interests or be ready to violate regulations issued by central agencies.

The policy on state administrative decentralization and assignment of powers in recent years has made important strides, creating a basic legal framework for dividing powers and responsibilities between the central government and local administrations at different levels to boost proactive local governance. However, there remains some important problems during the implementation of this policy which require the State to focus on to ensure the decentralization and assignment of powers suitable to the specific conditions of the country, bringing into play capability of administrations at all levels, constantly raising the effectiveness and efficiency of state governance in Vietnam. 

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(1) Documents of the 9th Plenum of the Central Committee of the 9th Party Congress, the National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2004, p. 99

Source: This article was published in the Communist Review No. 914 (December 2018)

Prof. Nguyen Dang Thanh, PhDHo Chi Minh National Academy of Politics