‘Entrust heavy responsibilities to innovators,’ former NA Chairman urges

Published: 19/08/2009 01:00

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VietNamNet reporters talked with former Politburo member and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Van An about ways of identifying and using ‘people of talent.’

VietNamNet: We Vietnamese have achieved a great deal in the past two decades thanks to the Doi Moi (renovation) philosophy and our transformation from the subsidy and rationing system to a market-based economic mechanism. Nowadays, the country faces new challenges. How can we apply the Doi Moi principles to deal effectively with the present situation?

Nguyen Van An: The Doi Moi policy has been very successful in the past 20 years. We have made huge progress toward integration into the world economy.

However, our policy has prioritized renovating economics. We’ve said that we will renovate politics later. Actually, within the process of economic renovation there has been some political renovation. When we’ve said “renovate politics later,” we’ve meant our political institutions – a very sensitive field.

Over 20 years have passed and it is the time for us to further comprehensive and absolute renovation by bringing democracy more into play, further expanding direct democracy within the Party (Communist Party of Vietnam) and in the larger society. Strengthening democracy will energize Doi Moi on a comprehensive basis and further promote economic development.

‘Economic renovation’ is upholding democracy inside the Party and in the society in the economic sphere. ‘Political renovation’ is upholding democracy inside the Party and in the society in the political sphere.

By developing democracy, especially broad-based, direct democracy, we’ll surely create new and powerful energy for the country’s comprehensive Doi Moi policy. Democracy is both the goal and the driving force.

VNNet: How can we develop the broad-based democracy you mentioned?

An: With our present mechanisms and institutions, if we correctly understand and develop democracy, the country’s Doi Moi achievements will be surely greater and more comprehensive.

The current mechanism has created many conditions for expanding democracy, but it is essential that the operators of that mechanism understand and run it properly.

We should remember that developing democracy always has two aspects. The first is the relationships between the leaders and their subordinates. If the leaders know how to motivate their subordinates to develop their ability, democracy will be enhanced and vice versa.

The second is that if the leaders don’t know how to properly use the democratic rights, and let others abuse them, democracy will not be expanded.

Developing democracy must go hand in hand with strengthening the rule of law. For a high level of democracy, we must have a strong legal foundation. And, in expanding democracy, we must also be on guard against sabotage by its enemies.

VNNet: You have mentioned “direct democracy”. Could you explain this concept?

An: “Direct democracy” should be understood in a wider meaning than the current conception.

For example, the Party congresses at all levels ought to directly elect the Party secretaries of that level. The National Party Congress ought to directly elect the Party Secretary General. That was the case at the second National Party Congress in 1951.

Another example: before making any policies, the Central Party Committee or the Politburo should listen attentively to the Government and the National Assembly. Listening before deciding will help the Politburo and Central Committee understand the ideas of senior and mid-level Party members who are working in the Government and the Legislature – it’s a good way to avoid subjective or arbitrary decisions.

These are some examples of expanding direct democracy inside the Party, and it is the same for society in general.

For instance, voters should directly elect the chairmen of the People’s Committees in their areas. At present, the People’s Councils elect the Chairmen of People’s Committees, not the voters.

The State should organize referenda about the country’s significant issues, such as amendment of the Constitution and other important issues that are related to the country’s destiny. That is the practical way to empower the people.

So we need to establish a Law on Referenda. The Constitution 1946 clearly mentioned that, and it ought to be carried out now.

VNNet: For a powerful state, we must have a good team of administrators. It is said that Vietnamese don’t lack talent but Vietnam lacks talented administrators. Is that true?

An: We have many officials who have good technical skills. However, many officials and businessmen are still poor at management because of both objective and subjective reasons.

VNNet: When appointing people to significant positions, it is our custom to evaluate their contribution in the wars of resistance, and assess general criteria like “loyalty to the party and the country, virtuous character…” But in the today’s context of integration with the world, we are facing great challenges and we need people who have technical qualifications and strategic vision, don’t we?

An: Every matter should be considered based on its specific historical context. Our ancestors said that people ought to be rewarded for their service and entrusted with high responsibility if they are talented. Those who have both a good record and talents must be both rewarded and entrusted with great responsibility.

We were talented in fighting against invaders and protecting our independence and sovereignty, but now in the process of building the country in peace we are still in the growing-up period.

Of course we must choose cadre who are suitable to the current direction [of development]. In the Doi Moi (renovation) period, we have to assign work to people who have a renovating attitude. Industrialization and modernization shouldn’t be entrusted to low achievers.

VNNet: You and other leaders often use the phrase ‘vừa hồng, vừa chuyên’ (both red and expert) to describe the criteria for choosing key officials. Expertise is a clear concept, and ‘red’ has been understood as revolutionary spirit. Do you think that the concept of “red” should be expanded and if yes, how?

An: In my opinion, “red” should be understood as real revolutionary virtues, not someone’s reputation as a Party member.

In the past, our policy was liberating the nation and unifying the country. Anybody who supported that policy was “red”. Today, in the time of industrialization, modernization and integration, anyone who has a Đổi Mới (renovationist) ideology, an ideology of integrating [with the world] under the Party’s leadership is “red”.

So, “red” isn’t the same thing as Party membership. Non-Party members can still be red.

Viewed that way, those who don’t agree to the Party’s policy have to stay on the sidelines; they cannot be entrusted with responsibility. That’s the only way. Even so, we have to create opportunities for them to contribute their ideas like everyone else.

VNNet: Now and in the future, patriotic personalities and intellectuals will play an extremely important role in leading the nation to prosperity. The Party and the State have had specific decisions and policies concerning the role of intellectuals. Why, then, do so many of them still feel that they don’t have real opportunities to contribute to the country?

An: Sometimes appraisals of people are dependent on subjective evaluation by individuals who hold the power, causing us to feel that talented and moral people are not used properly.

Talented people are usually imaginative, fast learners. They love freedom, and work very independently, regarding self-determination to be as necessary as the air they breathe, regarding creative freedom like daily food and drink, idolizing ‘the true, the good and the beautiful.’ They only respect virtue, talent, revolutionary spirit and truth. They hate and scorn falsity.

These talented people are always talking about new things, and often it’s hard to understand them. There are people who don’t hear them out before rejecting their ideas. Sometimes their immediate supervisors, or planning agencies recognize their worth, but the higher leaders don’t understand thoroughly or deeply, disregarding them, not giving them a voice or a place to speak.

VNNet: Singapore, South Korea and Japan have built effective forums for the open expression of opposing thoughts. What do you think, looking at these neighboring countries and considering Vietnam’s issues?

An: We should have longer lists of candidates standing for election and candidates must really compete for elective offices. The economy will not prosper without competition and it is the same for politics.

In our own setting, we can still organize transparent elections if we encourage candidates to present their independent viewpoints in political programs and reports, economic strategies, and their analysis of the causes of problems and their solutions.

Candidates’ independent viewpoints are very important because that’s how candidates can convince voters and voters will have a basis to compare among candidates.

Our tradition of modesty causes many people to hesitate to speak up, express their opinions or criticize the views of others. Sometimes people worry they’ll be thought greedy for power or boastful. Often they lack confidence. Their individuality is dissolved in the group. It’s true that the individual exists in the group, but it isn’t right that he/she be dissolved into it.

VNNet: But in reality, before people can express their independent views, one thing or another gets in the way. So how can the talents have opportunity to show themselves up?

An: That’s a thing with two aspects. On one hand, leaders must create opportunities, and on the other, their subordinates must know how to use their rights.

The fundamental rules of the Party, the Constitution and laws of the nation are comprehensive, there are just a number of problems that we don’t yet understand correctly or address properly, or don’t yet dare to do.

VNNet: If we had such open democratic forums, but talented people worry that if they advocate something, we’ll run into an obstacle or be censored, how will they have an opportunity to express themselves?

If they don’t dare to show themselves, they are not really actively talented, but just potentially talented.

VNNet: Do you think that the current structure has actually created conditions for the emergence of talented people?

An: We can’t blame it all on the system.

In history, it was the talented people who rose up and overcame obstacles to change the Constitution and the law. Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and our Ho Chi Minh are concrete examples.

In the darkest night [of Vietnam’s history], practically with empty hands and outside the law, Ho Chi Minh and the Party led our people to overthrow the colonial, semi-feudal system and establish a democratic republic.

Today, everyone has the protection of the law and legal rights, so if they don’t dare to express their ideas, they aren’t really people of talent.

VNNet: But, first of all, there must be respect for social criticism and civil society . . .

Social criticism, civil society, democratic society are manifestations and markers of the development of a nation that is of the people, by the people and for the people. . . .

Public spirit and the spirit of individualism are growing stronger. The spirit of public service is also growing stronger.

VNNet: Going back to the matter of choosing people who are capable, what procedures and methods should be employed so that the most worthy people are employed in our leadership structure from the grassroots to the central level?

An: This is a great concern of the whole society. Many people feel that the most talented people are not used appropriately. It is difficult to be sure who are most talented and moral. It’s often very dangerous to rely on individuals – particularly the people in charge — to evaluate personnel based on their personal evaluation. It is more objective to give the right of appraisal to the general public. Screening for talent is really important. For too long, it has depended too much on the leadership, and that leads to opportunism, in other words, on subordinates telling bosses what they want to hear.

VNNet: So, how can we find talented people for key positions, who can choose cadre with the strength to take on the responsibility of achieving our dear Uncle Ho’s cherished dream of national prosperity?

An: We are employing an unwritten policy in choosing key positions, which is not good. Only the heads of government and party bodies, for example deputy ministers, ministers, party secretary and chairmen can aspire to enter the central bodies. There are talented and virtuous people who cannot hold these positions because they don’t have opportunity. It is important to deal with this.

Secondly, only people who have served two terms on the Party Central Committee can be elected to the Politburo. This orderly progression is a lesson we should ponder. The ones who reach the top are already old. The young and talented are not represented. These unwritten rules unintentionally cost us dearly.

If all our leaders are of the same age, when they reach the age of retirement, they all retire at once. Experience tells us that all three age groups need to be represented in the apparatus of leadership: the old, the middle-aged and the young. Otherwise we will lose a lot of talent.

Briefly, the heads of government and Party agencies ought to meet the following criteria: good morals, talent and good health. Virtue’s an obvious criterion. There are lots of virtuous people, but not so many talented ones. Talent is the lifeblood of the nation. It is present in every era. Nations become prosperous or impoverished depending on how they use that talent, so if we do not make good use of talent, we will fail the public’s trust.

Interviewers: Thu Ha – Lan Anh

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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