Finding Freedom Podcast: Are we really equal?
Europe has seen many improvements in GENDER EQUALITY in recent years. Topic is not a taboo even in some less developed democracies. However, lack of equality between women and men in politic...
Vietnam scores among the lowest in Asia when it comes to free and fair elections. The country is clearly not an electoral democracy. The only legal party is the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) which controls all political decisions through its Central Committee. Elections for the 500-seat National Assembly are held every five years and all candidates are vetted by the Vietnam Fatherlands Front, an arm of the party. In the last elections in 2011 the CPV won 454 seats, while officially vetted non-party members gained 42 mandates with self-nominated candidates taking the remaining four. Nguyen Tan Dung was chosen for a second term as prime minister, and Truong Tan Sang was announced new state president. The 2011 Communist Party Congress also approved the general political strategy of
economic reform, while denying political reforms. Several known military and security hardliners were placed in leading positions. Political dissidents face severe suppression.
There are no unconstitutional veto players in Vietnam. The CPV governs the country repressively, not leaving any space for much political participation. Nevertheless, the governance follows a strict bureaucratic rule. All political decisions are entirely made by the party through its associated institutions.
Press freedom in Vietnam is severely restricted. Government-critical voices are suppressed and intimidated. All legal newspapers are owned by either the CPV or the army. However, there are a number of underground publications. There is only one national television broadcaster. Radio stations as well as international TV stations are forced to translate content into Vietnamese and undergo state censorship before airing. The CPV generally utilises media as a tool to disseminate state and party policies. On the positive side, Vietnam has recently eased visa restrictions for foreign journalists and allowed international press agencies to set up offices. In September 2013, the government issued a new internet regulation law, the Decree 72 on "Management, Provision, Use of Internet Services and
Information Content Online". It bans the use of blogs and social networks as well as circulation of all online content that could pose a threat to national security and social order. Even foreign organisations, enterprises, and individuals that provide public information across the border are required to comply with the provisions of the law. Media watchdogs such as Reporters Without Borders as well as numerous human rights organisations have criticised the decree as a serious offence to freedom of expression in Vietnam and fear that it will be used to persecute unwanted government criticism.
Vietnamese courts are only partially independent. The judiciary is subservient to the CPV, which controls courts at all levels. Fair trials are hardly possible as the judicial system is marred by political influence, endemic corruption and inefficiency. Judges rarely rule against members of the government. Some even refuse to hear sensitive cases for fear of negative consequences.
Yet the independence of the courts, however deficient as it may seem, has improved during the last years. Wages have been increased, working conditions improved, and a judicial reform has done its part to strengthen the independence of judges.
In spite of improvements over the past years, corruption is still considered widespread throughout the country. Corruption is prevalent through the health, education, construction, land management and natural resources sectors. Cumbersome legislation exists, but in practice provides little deterrence to an endemic problem. The government has passed legislation in 2012 to try and limit corruption. But the Communist Party acknowledged in 2014 that anti-corruption efforts had fallen short of expectations. According to a government report Vietnamese courts tried at least 278 corruption cases and the state directorate uncovered 80 new cases of fraud involving state funds in 2013. In 2014 four officials at Vietnam Railways, including the deputy general director, were detained for allegedly
being involved in a bribery case. Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Vietnam number 116 out of 177 surveyed countries.
Freedom of expression, association and public assembly are tightly controlled in Vietnam. The government does not allow independent media and blocks politically sensitive websites. There are also 29 different crimes that can incur the death penalty, which is still practiced. While other Southeast Asian countries have been reviewing their death penalty laws, Vietnam’s continues to be strongly enforced.
Religious freedom remains elusive for minority religious groups such as the Hoa Hao Buddhists, Cao Dai, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and Falun Gong. Hundreds of political prisoners and other prisoners of conscience remain jailed, among others the famous human rights activist Dr. Cu Huy Ha Vu and the journalist Nguyen Van Hai.
In theory Vietnamese laws provide for the protection of property rights. But enforcement is inconsistent and dispute settlement can be a lengthy process. All land belongs to the state, private ownership is unknown. But private persons can obtain long-term land use rights. The introduction in 2003 of a new land law allowed foreigners to engage in real-estate deals and lease land for 50-70 years. These lease contracts can be renewed. Foreigners who meet certain criteria can own apartments. The 2013 International Property Rights Index ranks Vietnam 90th out of 131 countries. Chief concerns are the legal and political environment and the weak protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights.
Government spending has risen slightly to 31% of GDP (from 30.3%). Progress in privatisation and restructuring of state-owned enterprises has been slow. Tax reforms in 2009 led to decreases in both top income and top corporate tax rates to 35% and 25%, respectively. Other taxes include value added tax and tax on property transfer. The overall tax revenue equals 21.1% of GDP.
The financial sector is expanding and capital markets are slowly evolving. Money lending is mostly done by four big state-owned banks, favouring state-owned enterprises. A decree which sets up the legal framework for private credit institutions has led to an improvement of Vietnam’s credit information system. Some comparatively small foreign banks are allowed to operate in Vietnam. Starting, operating and closing a business are subject to a number of regulations. It takes 34 days and 10 procedures to start a business, according to World Bank data. Obtaining a business license requires 11 procedures and 110 days. (However, administration has improved in a growing number of provinces, meaning that in some cases a business license may be obtained in as little as seven days.) Bankruptcy
procedures are rather slow and complicated. Labour regulations are inflexible. The non-salary cost of hiring a worker is moderate, but firing an employee is difficult. Informal labour activities are widespread.
Vietnam’s weighted average tariff rate is 5.7%. The liberalisation of trade was marked by several events: the country’s entry into ASEAN in 1995 and into the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation in 1998; the conclusion of a bilateral trade agreement with the United States in 2000, which granted Vietnam most-favoured-nation status; and its entry into the WTO in 2007. Its ASEAN membership has led to a sharp reduction of tariffs on imports from other member countries. But import bans and restrictions on some products, import taxes and licensing requirements, opaque regulations, inadequate enforcement of intellectual property rights, corruption and customs inconsistencies limit the gains from international trade. With the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) a single regional market of
more than 600 million people will be created by the end of 2015. The AEC will provide for a free flow of goods, services, investment capital and skilled labour.