“Endeavour to be independent voice”

Published: 28/01/2010 05:00


In the latest in our “Discover our Vietnamese Congressmen” series, VietNamNet talked with congress deputy Duong Trung Quoc, who is also a historian.

Insider view of National Assembly

Duong Trung Quoc was born on June 2 1947 in Ben Tre province. He graduated from the History Faculty of the Hanoi University in 1968. He worked at the Vietnam History Institute from 1969 until his retirement in 2007 as the institute’s deputy director.

From 1988 until now he has been the Secretary General of the Vietnam History Association and the chief editor of the Xua and Nay magazine since 1994.

He was elected as the NA deputy in 2002. He is now a member of the NA’s Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children, member of the Group of Vietnam-US Congressmen, member of the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front, member of the Presidium of the Union of Vietnam Sci-tech Associations, member of the National Advisory Council for Heritage and member of the Scientific Council for Preservation of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, member of the executive committee of the Vietnamese Journalist Association, the Vietnam Elderly Association, the Advertising Association and the Vietnam Press Distribution Association.

Your second term as the NA deputy is nearly over, is there anything during your time that you might have changed in terms of how you have worked.

When I have not been effective, then people have a grudge against me but there are so many thing that a congressman cannot do in terms of solving people’s complaints.

These matters are caused by not only the limited abilities of NA deputies or their lack of enthusiasm but also the inner mechanisms. The working conditions for NA deputies are not correlative to their functions and people’s expectations.

It is a problem for NA deputies to receive citizens when they represent the people in a province but they don’t live in that province. In my case, it is really difficult (Quoc works in Hanoi but he is the representative of the southern province of Dong Nai). I should not see them at my home. The office of the NA delegation of Dong Nai is located in Bien Hoa city. I cannot see them at the office of the Vietnam Historical Association because it is too small. I have to hire an office and hire young staff to be on duty at the office and I have to do some other jobs at this office to share leasing fees.

I think a congressman must have three things: the status and power set by the law, the ability to communicate and a good knowledge of the law. Many of the other NA deputies have the same thoughts as me.

Is there anything else?

There is another matter that I still wonder about after one term in the role of a congressman - that is deputies’ approval of laws. I’ve talked about this issue in the press several times. I registered to talk about it at a recent discussion at the National Assembly’s operations but it ran out of time so I missed the opportunity.

I think the NA’s operations need voters to be able to monitor deputies they elect. They could follow congressmen through the speeches the representatives deliver at the NA forums and in the media as well as through the representatives’ decisions when they vote for laws and significant policies.

I know that in the past, congressmen have raised their hands or their cards to vote for laws and policies. It took time to count the hands but that “manual” style helped others know the viewpoint of each deputy.

Since the electronic method is used, voting is faster and the date is more accurate but it is regrettable that that method does not allow for transparency. We don’t know who agrees, who does not agree and who didn’t vote. After each ballot, people just make a wild guess.

So do you think that it is better to vote by raising a hand?

Deputies can still press a button but the voting results should be announced widely. Detailed results can be sent to deputies by mail because all of them are equipped with laptops.

The media and the public is also interested in not only whether a bill is approved or not but also wants to know the viewpoint of each deputy. They also want to know who is absent from the ballot or whether one is asking another to press the button for him.

For example, when the NA voted for the expansion of Hanoi, based on my speeches, many journalists thought that I pressed the disagreement. Actually I pressed the “no vote” button because I think that expansion of the capital is a significant task so I didn’t want to vote when the preparation was hasty and lacked scientific grounds. I could not disagree with a policy that I didn’t thoroughly understand. So I could only not vote for it.

What is the most difficult thing for a congressman?

That is the ability to convene others. The NA acts as a lobby forum. NA deputies lobby each other through discussions. They need knowledge to make decisions but nobody knows everything.So NA deputies have to listen to society, to the media, to experts and finally listen to each other at discussion sessions and show their viewpoints through delivering speeches or pressing the button to vote.

I still remember when the NA voted for the Son La hydropower plant. I visited General Vo Nguyen Giap and he said that safety must be the top priority in this project. When I saw Prof. Tran Van Giau (both of them are honorable chairmen of the Vietnam History Association), he said that Vietnam should build more moderate works than great works. Former PM Vo Van Kiet said that the safety of that project was carefully considered.

I told other NA deputies about these opinions during discussion. Finally, the NA made a neutral decision.

Are you afraid that people might say NA deputies don’t have opinions so how can they vote accurately?

The opinion is the final decision. In other countries, congressmen represent parties so they speak based on their parties’ viewpoints. In Vietnam, 92 percent of deputies are Party members so they have to choose between the status of Party member and NA deputy. These statuses are not always as one so the final choice is often based on the first status. They may argue simply that “the Party’s opinion is the people’s opinion”, but I still hope that: “the people’s opinion is the Party’s opinion”.

Because I’m not a Party member I think I’m freer than in making choices.

What standards can people use to evaluate the quality of NA deputies?

We ought to evaluate the quality of NA deputies but there is no such a policy. Even the simplest aspects of the law - NA deputies have the right to vote on confidence in cabinet members – is not implemented.

So it is difficult to assess the contribution of each congressman or to make comparison between them?

Contribution to the NA is clearly shown through discussion. Your opinion is good or it isn’t and it is accepted that you either make changes to the law or don’t. But it is still difficult for the people to evaluate.

To evaluate congressmen, the people must have the right to vote to remove deputies but there is no mechanism for that.

What is your most remarkable contribution to the NA?

The only thing that I have contributed to the NA, but the success was not sustainable, is NA deputies having to sing the national anthem.

Many people said that you talked about “sensitive things” at the NA forum. What helped you to be confident to talk about them?

I listen to the public and I share what I’ve heard as honestly as I can at this forum. My attitude is always calm and I just wish to be heard.

If someone said that your speeches are quite extremist, how would you react?

Extremist? Some foreign news agencies have asked me whether I think that I’m a dissident? I answer that I only endevour to be an “independent” voice to contribute to the common interest.

In the previous NA term, people chose four outstanding NA deputies and you were included. If there is anpther four for this term, who would you choose?

It is interesting that this term has many members who deliver outspoken and qualified speeches like Nguyen Ba Thanh, Party Secretary of Da Nang City, Vu Hoang Ha, Party Secretary of Binh Dinh province or Nguyen Minh Thuyet and some others.

Le Nhung – Dang Duong

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