A few weeks ago I was fascinated to learn that local authorities in Danang have harnessed the power of social media to make their coastal city cleaner, greener and more beautiful. People can go online to report a broken lampost, flooded street or an illegal landfill. By helping to prioritise and direct the authority’s response, it has quickly become a success story for other cities and provinces to learn from.
Ten years ago, responsive governance like this would have been almost unthinkable in Vietnam. However, as incomes and aspirations have continued to rise, the relationship between government and their people has been transformed. As other countries have found, the more prosperous and educated citizens are, the more they expect governments to be accountable and responsive.
That is why we embarked on a journey to help improve communication between local government and its people. In 2009 UNDP Vietnam and its national partners introduced a pioneering set of metrics to capture people’s experience in the Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI). According to the national press, PAPI came as a breath of fresh air to push local administration to reform. By engaging provinces with their results, not only has it made provincial leaders think about their performance, but it has also spurred them into action.
Now in the fifth year of the survey nationwide, nearly 75,000 citizens have taken part. As this corresponds exactly to the last government’s term, not only does it provide a public score card of its public administration and local governance performance, it will set a benchmark for the new administration going forward.
Causes for Concern
With Vietnam having just gone to the polls to elect a new National Assembly, the release of this year’s PAPI report is important and timely. For example, it warns that many of those who depend on public administration and services the most, including women, ethnic minorities, and the less well educated, would have been less likely to vote unless urgent action is taken. The scores for participation in local level discussions on laws and ordinances and for vertical accountability also dropped this year. Many interviewed reported feeling disengaged by the overall political process. And unless they are engaged and mobilized, they won’t have a say.
Another major concern this year is a drop in transparency and control of corruption. A number of high profile corruption and maladministration cases have been reported at provincial and local levels over the past year. It is encouraging that the recent Party Congress took a strong stand on the need to step up the fight against corruption. Broad and inclusive participation in the election of new National Assembly members is a vital step in helping to make this happen.
Over the past five years we have been greatly encouraged by how national and provincial government authorities have responded to PAPI findings. To date, more than 40 provinces have hosted workshops to look more closely at citizen feedback. And over 26 provinces have used PAPI data to design and carry out their action plans, directives and resolutions to improve their implementation of general governance, administrative procedures and service delivery.
I believe that PAPI has played a vital role in building a performance culture for public administration and public services in Vietnam. Good, responsive governance and accountable institutions are a vital foundation for success in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and delivering on the 2030 Development Agenda.
As the Party Congress stressed, there is a clear need for greater accountability and responsibility of the leaders to control corruption. This can only be achieved if all citizens, particularly the most vulnerable, are fully engaged in this endeavor. Creating ‘virtuous circles’ of empowerment between institutional reformers and engaged citizens is what PAPI is all about.
Dr. Pratibha Mehta has been UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Vietnam since 2011. She holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Gujarat, and an MSc in Child Development from M.S. University, Baroda, India. To see the findings and insights of the 2015 PAPI Report, which covers 63 provinces, click on congbo2015.papi.org.vn/eng and then go to the download menu