Age-old relations, cooperation boosted

Norway has provided economic support for many countries with the aim of helping to improve the socio-economic situation in developing countries within a sustainable development framework. The country is now the second largest sponsor in the world in terms of the ODA/GNP (official development assistance/gross national product) ratio. On the occasion of Norway’s National Day on May 17, an interview was conducted with Leiv Landro, Counsellor for Development Cooperation at the Norwegian Embassy in Vietnam.

Vietnam and Norway have signed many important agreements since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1971. The memorandum of understanding (MoU) on bilateral development cooperation is considered a turning point in relations between the two countries. Can you highlight the significance of the MoU and Norway’s development assistance to Vietnam?
Norway and Vietnam signed the MoU on bilateral development cooperation in October 1996, which was supplemented with support for society in general. The agreement was extended in 1999 to also cover social development, with priority given to basic education and primary healthcare, as such investment is considered to be the basis for all economic and social development.
     Norway’s aid for Vietnam is within the ODA allocation for Asia in environmental activities and other global aid. This has also been provided with non-government organisations, multilateral organisations and industrial and trade assistance.

Could you tell us about the development cooperation of Norway and Vietnam and the areas favoured for development?
Norwegian development cooperation to Vietnam is increasing every day. With the aim of harmonising administrative procedures and development policies among donors to Vietnam, Norway works with the Like Minded Donor Group (LMDG), within Vietnam’s legal and administrative systems. Members of the LMDG are committed to work as part of Vietnam’s poverty strategy, which uses much ODA. LMDG also helps Vietnam to build capacity in Overseas Development Aid to increase administrative effectiveness.
     Until 2002, Norwegian assistance to Vietnam was mainly covered by bilateral agreements. However, with an increased focus on harmonisation and the simplification of ODA management to improve aid effectiveness, government to government assistance in 2003 amounted to about US$10 million. More than 50 percent of the disbursement is targeted at the poorest sections of the population.
     Norway’s assistance to Vietnam is focused on the three main fields of primary education, good governance and economic development. Together with the World Bank, Sida and AusAid, Norway gives disadvantaged children in Vietnam much support to improve their access to primary school and improve the quality of education. Capacity building in local government, participation by the community, grassroots democracy, transparency and accountability all receive funding by Norway. Norway is further involved in supporting the Public Finance Management Reform Initiative, which aims to modernise public financial management in Vietnam, and capacity building for procurement. The fisheries, hydropower, and oil and gas sectors, and the private sector, has received much assistance from Norway.
     In the future Norway will help Vietnam to develop programmes and projects in legal compilation, primary education, capacity building, institutional development and administrative reform to help Vietnam’s efforts in poverty reduction.

What are the features of Norway’s economic development cooperation to Vietnam in fisheries, energy and resources management, in which Norway has a great advantage?
The main target in development cooperation between Norway and Vietnam is to promote socio-economic development via production support with a focus on fisheries, energy and resource management.
     Since the 1970s, Norway has provided direct aid for Vietnam’s fisheries. The visit to Vietnam in 1977 by the Norwegian-built research vessel Bien Dong was a significant contribution to Vietnam’s fisheries as it identified resources for the country. Also, via the Vietnam’s Ministry of Fisheries, Norway has provided financial and technical assistance for Vietnam to build its Fisheries Law, which was adopted by the Vietnam National Assembly in October 2003 and will come into effect from on July 1.
     In addition, Norway has provided support for the Research Institute for Aquaculture No 1 to develop fish species and fish farming technology, especially for poorest communes in coastal areas. We are assisting Vietnam in fisheries education and research by supporting capacity building at the Nha Trang University of Fisheries through institutional cooperation with Norwegian universities within this field.
     Vietnam and Norway have cooperated in energy since the 1970s. In 1996, when Norway opened its embassy in Hanoi, Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland emphasised that Norway would share its experience with Vietnam in the field. In 1997, Norway decided to extend its development investment to help Vietnam’s oil and gas industry. Norway’s funds were then used for building a training centre for the oil and gas industry in Ba Ria, which became operational in 1980. We have paid careful attention to strengthening Vietnam’s law on oil and gas.
     Norway’s Statoil has trained many workers and engineers from the Vietnam Oil and Gas Corporation (PetroVietnam). Norway has also helped Vietnam to increase capacity in the oil sector, and a project on energy and environment including cooperation between Norwegian Petroleum Directorate and Norwegian Pollution Control Authority and PetroVietnam. The project aims at developing management system to create a safe working environment and control pollution. Norway has also helped Vietnam develop a project on evaluating petrol and oil resources.
     We have provided technical support for the national hydro-power plan to develop the National Hydropower Plan (NHP) for hydropower development and flood control along the major rivers of Vietnam. The purpose is to define the impact of the development of hydro-power on the environment and the population while contributing to water resource management.
     We have paid careful attention to the development of rural areas and the private sector in Vietnam, which has helped to boost our age-old relations and cooperation.

What do you comment the effectiveness of using ODA of Vietnam?
The use of ODA in Vietnam seems in general to be quite effective. However, the large number of projects from all the donors obviously put a heavy burden on the government system. The on-going and constructive discussions between donors and the government to further harmonize procedures and move into new development aid modalities like program and budget support are therefore very important.

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