‘The people’s meat is the officials’ poison’

Published: 21/03/2010 05:00



NA’s Committee for Defence and Security Chairman Le Quang Binh is a strong advocate of reforms to make the legislature more effective. Interviewed by VietNamNet, Binh didn’t mince words.

Deputy Le Quang Binh, 62, represents his birthplace, Thanh Hoa province, in the National Assembly though he now lives in Hanoi. First elected to the 10th NA (1997), the former general is a member of the legislature’s Standing Committee and Chairman of its Defence and Security Committee.

VietNamNet: You have known many battlefields: Quang Tri, the Tet 1968 campaign, Southern Laos and the Central Highlands, the war-ending Ho Chi Minh campaign and the fighting on our southwestern and northern borders. Was the switch from soldiering to legislating difficult?

Deputy Le Quang Binh: I’ve lived nearly my whole life as a soldier. I joined the NA because I was nominated by the army, assigned by the Party, and elected by the people. If I had the power to choose, I would not have chosen to become a legislator.

The life of a soldier is hard but duties and authority are very clear; everything is subject to rules. Becoming a legislator, I can get a lot of information and travel to many countries, but it is difficult to work effectively at the National Assembly.

I want to do my best but sometimes it is difficult to do as I hope. The NA is the highest power body, our law says so, but it is very difficult to put the law into practice.

VietNamNet: Why’s that?

Binh: Our law says that the NA is the supreme agency, with many missions and rights: making and amending the Constitution and laws, making decisions about the country’s vital issues, supervising at the highest level the state apparatus. However, all of these jobs are unclear.

For example, both the Constitution and the law refer only generally to the defence and security field. For specific matters, sometimes the Party issues resolutions, sometimes the Government issues regulations and in either case, the NA’s Committee for Defence and Security wasn’t consulted.

We are tasked to do the supervisory work but how can we do that if the law just makes general stipulations and we don’t have specific regulations about this job?

VietNamNet: You were once a Major General and the Commander of the III Army Corps (Central Highlands). How does that job compare to being a Chairman of an Assembly Committee?

Binh: In both cases, you work for the same goal: the interests of the nation, based on the Constitution and the laws.

In the army, the subordinates have to follow orders but at the NA, no one supervises anybody. Its effectiveness and the managerial result, therefore, are different.

In the army, in a campaign, the time for liberating a city is fixed. During that period, you know how many soldiers, vehicles, weapons you can use. If you win, you are rewarded with a medal; if you lose, you lose your position.

The job at the NA sounds pretty soft but it turns out to be very difficult. I’ve been a legislator for nearly three terms and even if I’m a legislator for several terms more, I will not be praised no matter how well I do my job. There’s little encouragement, and not much criticism either. I’m my own sternest critic.

In principal, we can have a vote of confidence, but since the regulation on votes of confidence was issued, we have not had any such votes.

VietNamNet: At a recent NA session, you “requested” the Government to send a report about bauxite mining projects in the Central Highlands to deputies. Do you frequently have to ask the government to supply information?

Binh: It is an ordinary thing to make such a request of the Government. The Government proposes the legislative agenda but to carry it out, the NA has to regularly push the Government and make requests. We often lack information because documents are often sent to us just a few days before NA meetings. Deputies therefore don’t have sufficient time to investigate and verify information.

We often joke among ourselves that working as a deputy is like running a restaurant. Sometimes we wait and wait for business, other times – when the documents are in hand – we work night and day.

Some people say that with the current law-making procedures, the interests of ministries and sectors are “embedded” in the laws. With such a short time to assess proposed legislation, how can the NA’s committees filter out these special interests?

The Government decides it wants a certain law, then it sends the idea to a specific ministry. The ministry officials work on it, and send it to a deputy minister for review, and then ultimately it gets to down to a few concerned officials. The drafting committees are large, but in fact there are just a few people who do the work. When a law is made that way, there are plenty of opportunities to take care of one’s interests and it’s easy to evade responsibility.

The Government assigns the Ministry of Justice to guard the door, check the work. The National

Assembly also has a committee to verify and harmonize interests. In the final analysis, however, we are quite acquiescent. The typical thing is that the ministries that preside over the compilation of a law fight to gain power while sticking others with the duties and responsibility.

The time from submitting to ratifying a law is so short that the quality of our laws is not high.

VietNamNet: Back to your own work as a deputy. Is it true that deputies have many channels to get information but the voters only know about their deputies’ work through their speeches at the Assembly?

Binh: In my experience, the people keep a close eye on the work of their province or city NA delegations. Thanh Hoa province voters have praised deputy Le Van Cuong for his outspoken speeches. They also have criticised deputies who don’t speak up and even doze during sessions.

Constituents mainly know about their deputies via the media and while the Assembly is in session. They don’t know what the deputies do every day, except when deputies meet with constituents or participate in the Assembly debates.

However, t some deputies work hard, but do their talking elsewhere. Deputies also observe each other. Many senior officials don’t want to make speeches because they’ve already been in many meetings [on a draft law] and have nothing new to say.

In the 10th NA, I spoke out sharply about corruption and slacking off. I haven’t done that so much recently. The fact is – and I’m not blaming anyone here – we can talk all we want, but who’s listening?

NA deputies give information to the media. Sometimes the reporters get it right, and sometimes they don’t. In the latter case, it’s the deputy, not the reporter, who gets blamed. What a mess!

NA deputies have to speak out, but if we are sharp in our remarks, our officials take offense.

Then there are some people who don’t want NA deputies to speak out. There are cases where deputies who spoke out at the NA who were summoned by their provinces’ officials and admonished to speak more carefully.

So to speak out or not is the common concern of deputies. Former NA Chairman Nguyen Van An often said that ‘the people’s meat is the officials’ poison.’

Of course, at the Assembly, deputies must speak out, but everyone says that (whether they speak out or not) it’s ‘for the people.’ Either making a fuss or letting sleeping dogs lie – that’s ‘for the people.’

What should be public, what kept secret? That’s not clear at the NA either. In the army, preparation for a battle is secret, but when the battle begins, everything is public. At the NA, I don’t know when the time to keep secrets ends.

VietNamNet: How about decision-making at the NA? What do NA deputies need to make good decisions?

Binh: First, the quality of NA deputies must be improved. The voice of deputies has to carry weight in their own provinces. If they don’t dare to “touch” directors of local departments, how can they be NA deputies?

The second is that the NA needs sufficient time to evaluate and verify bills. Draft laws need to be sent to deputies earlier.

When the competence of deputies is not high and they have little time for preparation, they will look to others to make decisions.

VietNamNet: What is it that bothers you the most?

Binh: Thinking about how the Assembly can really wield power, do high quality work, not just go through the motions. In my three terms as a deputy, I’ve seen some progress in that direction.

The interpellation (Q&A) was quite unsatisfactory during the 10th Assembly. The Prime Minister never participated, just handed down his opinions like from on high, not as though he was reporting to the people who elected him. It’s different now. Even so, it’s still quite difficult for the legislature to exercise its role as the supreme institution of government.

VietNamNet: What should we do so the NA is really the body of highest power?

Binh: Once again, the quality of our deputies must be improved.

Even more important, the Party should renovate the way of leadership. Leaders must know how to listen to the opinions of individual deputies and the NA before it makes decisions.

Asking for and listening to the NA’s opinions, before the Party finally makes decisions, doesn’t in any way reduce the role of the Party.

Let’s take, for example, the matter of Hanoi’s expansion. It would have been better if the Party had instructed the Government to submit the plan on Hanoi’s expansion to the NA with plenty of time for democratic discussion. The Party should have listened to a spectrum of opinions and finally issued its Resolution on the expansion, after which the Assembly could have approved the plan based on the policy agreed with the Party.

It ought to be the same with personnel matters. The National Assembly elects the President, the PM and the members of its Standing Committee. It approves cabinet members.

The Party should set standards, norms and even propose specific persons for the NA to discuss, but not as a fait accompli. The Central Party Committee and the Politburo ought to listen to the NA’s opinions and then make its decision. After that, the NA can elect key personnel based on the Party’s resolution.

If the above procedures are implemented, the NA will continue to develop and improve its operations effectively.

Phuong Loan

Provide by Vietnam Travel

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