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Surveying Local Government and Authority in Contemporary Vietnam 1© 2004 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore 1 Surveying Local Government and Authority in Contemporary Vietnam Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet The context of this book is discussions and controversies regarding governance in Vietnam today. Although an old concept, governance has attracted new attention among academics, development agencies, and government offices around the world. It means, according to one widely cited definition, “the exercise of political, economic and administrative authority to manage a nation’s affairs” and includes “the complex mechanisms, processes, relationships and institutions through which citizens and groups articulate their interests, exercise their rights and obligations and mediate their differences”.1 This highlights a feature in many analyses and uses of the concept: governance includes both government and citizens.2 It is a process in which government officials and institutions make and implement policies, rules, and regulations while at the same time being accountable to the public. Bad policies and poor accountability equal bad governance. Good policies and accountability mean good governance. Reproduced from Beyond Hanoi: Local Government in Vietnam, edited by Benedict J Tria Kerkvliet and David G Marr (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2004). This version was obtained electronically direct from the publisher on condition that copyright is not infringed. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the prior permission of the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. Individual articles are available at 2 Benedict J. Tria Kerkvliet© 2004 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore The rhetoric of the Communist Party in Vietnam advocates good governance. Party leaders claim to have high regard for what people want and need; and they take pride in trying to make policy that serves the people and the nation as a whole. These orientations are encapsulated in such well publicized slogans as government “for the people, by the people, and of the people” (cho dan, do dan, vi dan) and “the people know, discuss, implement, and evaluate” (dan biet, dan ban, dan lam, dan kiem tra). At the same time, Vietnamese officials acknowledge considerable shortcomings. To improve the situation, they have taken numerous measures, among them national campaigns against corruption and for “grassroots democracy”. Foreign aid agencies have been giving considerable development assistance to Vietnam aimed at improving “governance” — both the ability of government to make and implement policy and the ability of citizens to know about and influence what officials do. Meanwhile, criticisms inside and outside the country range from saying that officials are not doing enough to contending that good governance under Communist Party rule is impossible. Although governance is this book’s context, it is too vast a subject to examine here. More manageable, colleagues and I decided, is to look at topics related to governance. We identified two and convened scholars doing new research on them.3 As the Preface explains, the first topic was organizations, for which a book has been published.4 Broadly, that study found that since the late 1980s, organizations have become much more numerous, many have considerable independence from the Communist Party and its government, often they serve members well, but government-imposed constraints significantly hamper their ability to counter poor policies and badly behaved officials. The second topic, local government and authority, is the focus of this book. The emphasis is on Vietnam during Communist Party rule, although we purposefully included examinations of the colonial period as well. Contributors were asked to probe one or more of the following questions: what local institutions and offices have authority to govern; who are local officials and how do they get their positions; what do local governments do and whose interests do they serve; and what do residents say about local officials and governing institutions? Some other research has also been done on these matters for contemporary Vietnam. The purpose of this chapter is to synthesize Surveying Local Government and Authority in Contemporary Vietnam 3© 2004 Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore what that literature and the following chapters in this book say about those questions. I take in turn the first three questions. While doing so, I shall weave in materials pertaining to the fourth question on citizens’ views. Institutions In Vietnam, as in many other countries, talking about government and authority can become confusing. “Government” may refer specifically to the prime minister, deputy prime ministers, and ministers and deputy ministers of national ministries and departments. Often this is the meaning of the Vietnamese word for government (chinh phu) today. But “government...


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