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Vietnam’s Public Services Improve, but Anti-corruption Efforts, Transparency Need Focus

Vietnam has been trying to address socio-economic challenges posed by the pandemic while at the same time pursue modern and effective national governance.  Vietnam Briefing highlights key features of the PAPI Report 2021 which measures provincial performance in the spheres of governance, public administration, and public service delivery.


The Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI) introduced in 2009 is a joint collaboration between the Center for Community Support and Development Studies (CECODES) and the UNDP in Vietnam. The PAPI research program is the annual citizen-centric, nationwide, and external policy monitoring tool in Vietnam which measures local government performance in governance, public administration, and public service delivery.

From 2009 to 2020, PAPI captured the experiences of 146,233 citizens on central and local governance and public administration issues. Therefore, insights from the PAPI 2021 report can help local authorities at different levels to improve decision-making and policy-making and provide decent public services. PAPI findings are also used in by the government and by the National Assembly to measure the performance of provinces and improve the business environment.

In addition, findings from PAPI 2021 report can also help understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on public administration effectiveness, which allows the local authorities to prepare for similar economic and health crises should they occur in the future.

As in previous years, the 2021 PAPI report evaluates the operational effectiveness of provinces in accordance with eight criteria such as:

(1) Participation at local levels;

(2) Transparency in local decision-making;

(3) Vertical accountability towards citizens (interaction with local authorities, government responsiveness, and access to justice services);

(4) Control of corruption in the public sector (corruption in local governments, corruption in public service delivery, equity in state employment, and willingness to fight corruption;

(5) Public administrative procedures;

(6) Public service delivery (public healthcare, basic infrastructure, education, law and order);

(7) Environmental governance; and

(8) E-governance.

The rankings and the overall picture

Improvement in public infrastructure

Citizens overall enjoy improvements in basic infrastructure as they experienced better roads, water supply, and sanitation possibly resulting from public investment from local governments. Fewer land seizures were also reported, as COVID-19 meant that there was likely less demand for land for economic and investment projects.

A decline in public services quality

Regarding the control of corruption in the public sector criteria, for example, 2021 was the first year since 2015 to witness a fall in citizens’ assessment of local government’s performance in anti-corruption. Similarly, although reports of land seizures fell, transparency of land use plans and land price frames (land prices that authorities make public on government websites) declined. With amendments to the 2014 land law likely, these two areas are indicators for revision to enhance the public’s access to important land information.

Moreover, the vertical accountability towards citizens criteria also observed a sharp fall in performance compared to the previous years – partially due to local governments’ challenge in handling the overwhelming numbers of citizen requests for pandemic-related response and support policies during 2021.

Highlights from PAPI 2021

  • Better-performing provinces were found in the Northern regions while most Central Highlands, South-central coastal, and Mekong Delta provinces saw a dip in performance.
  • Compared to 2020’s findings, most provinces did better in public service delivery, and control of corruption than in the other five dimensions.
  • Compared to 2020’s findings, 30 provinces made improvements to their performances in public service delivery, environmental governance, and e-governance. However, 30 provinces also saw a decline in dimensional scores in criteria such as participation at local levels, transparency in local decision-making, vertical accountability, and control of corruption in the public sector.
  • However, declines in both the highest and lowest 2021 provincial scores were evident in participation at local levels, transparency in local decision-making, vertical accountability, and control of corruption in the public sector.
  • Provincial performance in E-governance remained stable across the country.

Thua Thien – Hue province leads 2021 rankings, Ho Chi Minh City drops

The central province of Thua Thien-Hue took the lead among 63 localities in the PAPI ranking with 48,095 points. This was followed by Lang Son, Hanoi, Phu Tho, and Hai Phong. Quang Ninh, Bac Ninh, and Bac Giang were not ranked due to a lack of data.

Best Performing Provinces (PAPI 2021)
1 Thua Thien-Hue
2 Lang Son
3 Hanoi
4 Phu Tho
5 Hai Phong

To achieve such a high ranking, the province made a relentless effort to improve and speed up administrative procedures. For example, construction licenses or land use permission as well as better governance services.

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Among the five centrally-governed cities, Ho Chi Minh City was in the low-performing quartile, which was likely due to a result of long-term lockdowns during COVID-19 that impeded citizens’ access to local governments and public services.

The city was also among the least transparent in the ranking of transparency in local decision-making. Additionally, the transparency score of Ho Chi Minh City last year was the lowest since 2017.

The PAPI’s dimension of transparency in local decision-making is measured by the four sub-dimensional areas of access to information, poverty lists, commune budget and expenditure lists, and local land use planning and pricing. Overall, the PAPI report showed limited transparency of local land use plans during last year.

Specifically, those who said they were informed about local land use plans declined from 18 percent in 2020 to 14 percent in 2021, the lowest since 2011.

In another survey that included 16,000 respondents, only 29 out of 63 provinces and cities publicly listed land prices on their official portals, and only 337 out of a total of more than 700 district-level administrative units nationwide listed public land use plans online.

In more than 40 localities, only 50 percent of respondents said that the list of budget revenues and expenditures in communes, wards, and townships was publicly posted.

Of the remaining four centrally-run cities, Hanoi leads with 5.93 points, followed by Hai Phong and Danang with 5.42 and 5.06. Can Tho City in the Mekong Delta scored 4.6 points.

Migration

Compared to 2020’s findings, fewer respondents nationwide expressed an urge to move permanently outside of their home province in 2021. However, Dak Nong had as much as 9 percent of citizens interested in moving. Nevertheless, even in this Central Highlands province, the proportion of potential migrants fell by more than half from that reported in 2020.

Meanwhile, the top six preferred destinations for migrants in 2021 in order of preference were Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Da Nang, Lam Dong, Can Tho, and Binh Duong, while the least preferred destinations in order were Kon Tum, Lai Chau, Lang Son, Ninh Thuan, and Bac Lieu.

Three key reasons for wanting to move in 2021 dovetailed with those in 2020, including family reunions (primarily for those who wanted to move to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City), better jobs (to Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, and Da Nang) and a better natural environment (to Danang and Lam Dong).

An interesting aspect was the difference between migrants and permanent residents. Migrants typically were entitled to lesser services compared to permanent residents in provinces and cities. However, in an experiment by PAPI, migrants were more interested to learn about the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement (EVFTA) and its implications on jobs and the economy compared to permanent residents. This shows that migrants have more to gain from economic integration and thus are willing to learn more.

Control of corruption in the public sector

Twenty provinces made significant progress in 2021 compared to their performances in 2020. Binh Duong, Hai Phong, Lang Son, and Lam Dong saw an increase of more than 15 percent over the two years.

Bribes for jobs in the public sector remain common across the country. Personal relationships remain important for public offices at the commune level.

The proportion of people having to pay bribes when applying for land-use rights certificates is between 40 percent and 90 percent in over 40 cities/provinces. This exists in poor provinces such as Cao Bang, Dak Lak, and Soc Trang.

Meanwhile, 40-80 percent of people in 40 cities/provinces using healthcare services at public hospitals at the district level said they have had to pay additional money to get better care. Dong Thap, Hau Giang, and Ho Chi Minh City are localities where the proportion is the lowest.

Takeaways

As Vietnam aims to become a high-income country, it is important for authorities to understand s and improve policies and services based on feedback. Policy monitor tools like the PAPI will play an important role in not only improving governance performance but also creating constructive competition while encouraging learning among provinces. Foreign businesses can also use the report to gauge a province’s services such as infrastructure, land use, corruption and make an informed decision on whether the province they choose is suitable for their investment.

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