Vietnamese economist praised Sweden for transparency

Dr. Le Dang Doanh. Photo: ueb.edu.vn

A Vietnamese economist praised Sweden for governance transparency. His vision in keeping records of  government officials’ spending will help improve in many areas.

Dr. Le Dang Doahn, a former member of the United Nations Development Policy Committee and a respected Vietnamese economist opined in Vnexpress on 2nd January 2019 that said:

In many international organizations, including the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and U.N., officials only get to fly business class if the trip is of more than eight hours since rest is essential for them to start working on landing.

So, for a three-hour flight from Hanoi to HCMC, a Vietnamese deputy minister will fly first class while a World Bank official lending them money, for example, will fly economy. Irony.

Government spending, which is from public tax money and income from public assets, should be used for the nation and public services such as the management of security, national defense, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and so on.

In other words, the government has a responsibility to utilize public money for the public’s interests.

If the government budget is carefully monitored by the public, the government would come under pressure to economize and be efficient with it.

As the budget gets used better, the public will believe their tax contribution will directly benefit their well-being and be more motivated to contribute.

However, budget management in Vietnam is arguably weaker than in many other nations.

In Sweden, a 2,000-page government budget report carefully documents all spending, from its prime minister’s flight tickets to his meals. With its strict rules, if a Swedish leader wants to buy their counterpart a cup of coffee, they would have to pay from their pockets.

The rules are equally strict in America. If the president receives an expensive gift, it will be auctioned and the proceeds will go into the government coffers.

With such careful oversight, it is understandable that those nations’ yearly budget reports consist of thousands of pages of meticulously documented spending.

On the other hand, Vietnam’s annual budget report comprises just a few dozens of pages on the overall revenues and expenses.

This lack of detail is reflected in Vietnam’s low Open Budget Index ranking with 15 points out of 100 compared to the global average of 42.

At the provincial level, only six out of Vietnam’s 63 provinces sufficiently publicize their budget spending, according to the 2018 Provincial Open Budget Index.
Around half of all cities and provinces need to expeditiously improve their budget transparency. Both Hanoi and HCMC are in the low-transparency group despite spending the most from state budget.

This deficiency prevents any interested individual from scrutinizing the government’s efficiency in public spending.

It is evident that Vietnam needs to improve its public spending efficiency. One example of wasteful spending are the street banners with socio-political messages. They may distract drivers’ attention and cause accidents. Other countries, even ones with similar socio-political landscapes such as China, rarely use street banners, let alone as extensively as Vietnam. The government should seriously consider whether its benefits outweigh its costs.

Vietnam should also consider how other nations and international organizations regulate their budgets, which would help us better understand which expenses directly contribute to the public’s interests and which should be considered just extravagance.

No budget can withstand unregulated, unrestrained spending.

Only by publicizing the government budget with carefully documented details can spending violations be identified and stopped. Only then can transparency and efficiency be achieved.

In recent years, admittedly, the Vietnamese government has made a number of laudable efforts to increase budget transparency. However, regulations should be codified explicitly to prevent any possible abuse.

Publicizing spending at all levels of government is the first step toward improving budget transparency. It should be made one of Vietnam’s top priorities.

For years have nations strived toward government transparency.

It is time for us to catch up.

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