No Longer Sitting Quietly: Building space for community participation in Vietnam | Oxfam | Vietnam

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For most people in Vietnam, living conditions have steadily improved since the doi moi reforms began in 1986. But inequalities continue to widen, especially between people living in rural and urban areas, and between majority and minority ethnic groups. And local people, especially if they come from a minority group, still have little say in how their communities are run. Although in theory some national policies promote bottom-up planning and decision making, in practice there is a long way to go until this happens on the ground. This case study – one of a series of Programme Insights on Local Governance and Community Action – looks at a project that was part of Oxfam’s Right to Be Heard programme. Based in Bac Ai district, it aimed to strengthen the participation of poor men and women from the Raglai ethnic minority in local government programmes and also to build skills among local government officials.
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    ‘No longer sitting quietly’ Building space for community participation in Vietnam People in Da Trang village, Phuoc Tan commune choose appropriate communication tools with the help of an official from the district People’s Committee. Photo: Oxfam GB For most people in Vietnam, living conditions have steadily improved since the doi moi  reforms began in 1986. But inequalities continue to widen, especially between people living in rural and urban areas, and between majority and minority ethnic groups. And local people, especially if they come from a minority group, still have little say in how their communities are run. Although in theory some national policies promote bottom-up planning and decision making, in practice there is a long way to go until this happens on the ground. This case study looks at a project that was part of Oxfam’s Right to Be Heard programme. Based in Bac Ai district, it aimed to strengthen the participation of poor men and women from the Raglai ethnic minority in local government programmes and also to build skills among local government officials.    P  r  o  g  r  a  m  m  e   I  n  s   i  g   h   t  s  No Longer Sitting Quietly: Building space for community participation in Viet Nam Oxfam Programme Insights 2   Introduction The project worked in four communes in Bac Ai district and targeted the Raglai ethnic minority group, with a particular focus on women. ‘When I came to Bac Ai five years ago local people rarely spoke out, and there were few community-based organizations. Now this has changed. I am happy about that.’    – Truong Thu Huyen, Oxfam Programme Co-ordinator, Right to Be Heard programme, Vietnam 1 Vietnam has a population of around 87 million and is one of the most densely populated countries in the world. The doi moi, or ‘renovation’, reform process, which began in 1986, saw the transition of the country from a centrally planned economy to a market-oriented one. Significant economic growth since then has been driven by agricultural reforms relating to land and prices, resulting in an improvement in living conditions for many people. Vietnam now ranks 128th out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index and is considered by the United Nations to be a ‘medium human development’ country.  2  At the same time, however, inequality has increased, especially between those living in rural and urban areas, and between minority and majority ethnic groups. In rural areas, 18.7 per cent of people are living in poverty, compared with only 3.3 per cent in urban areas. And the country’s 54 minority ethnic groups account for up to 50.3 per  cent of all poor people, but make up only 14.3 per cent of the total population.  3    No Longer Sitting Quietly: Building space for community participation in Viet Nam Oxfam Programme Insights 3   ‘If you don’t know, you don’t ask’ – moving from top down to bottom up? ‘The policies are there, but people don’t know about them so they don’t ask. And information from government sources is limited. There is a big gap between policy and information – but this provides space for people to demand participation.’    – Truong Thu Huyen, Oxfam Programme Co-ordinator, Right to be Heard programme   In Vietnam the National Assembly, the highest representative body of the people, is the only branch of the government with constitutional and legislative power. Legislation and government commitments strongly endorse social accountability, but decision making, development planning, and implementation are still highly centralized and top-down. Some national policies in theory promote bottom-up planning and decision making, although in practice there is a long way to go until this happens on the ground. For example, the 2007 Grassroots Democracy Ordinance calls for extensive public involvement at the commune level in decisions relating to the use of public resources. According to the Ordinance, people have the right to be informed, to participate in discussions, and to make decisions on local socio-economic development activities, especially when these activities require community resources. This work is supposed to be done through local bodies. Each province, district, and commune has a local legislative body called the People’s Council. The Council should appoint another set of local leaders with executive authority called the People’s Committee, which handles daily administration at provincial, city, district, and commune levels. But in practice, each level is highly dependent on the one above – for example, budgets are based on quotas provided from high-level offices. So, despite government legislation, there is a lack of local participation in policy processes. This may be partly because civil society organizations (CSOs) are relatively new  – they have only emerged in Vietnam in the past ten years. They still have limited awareness of policy processes and lack the confidence and skills to engage in policy debates or to involve communities. It may also be because CSOs are seen by local authorities as a channel for the dissemination of information from government to local people instead of a mechanism for promoting two-way communication. Conflicts of interest are also a problem, with individuals filling a number of overlapping roles. For example, the deputy head of the Education Department might also be on the People’s Council. This makes it impossible for local people to challenge anything relating to education. There is also a lack of capacity and understanding on the part of local planners. For example, local officials might broadcast information on loudspeakers in villages – but only in Vietnamese, when local people only speak their own languages.  No Longer Sitting Quietly: Building space for community participation in Viet Nam Oxfam Programme Insights 4   No longer sitting quietly: bridging political gaps ‘Previously Raglai people used to sit quietly in meetings with local government and never attend any meetings with People's Council deputies. Now we are aware that we will not go to prison if we raise our concerns.’  – Kato Chan, Maty village.   Oxfam has been working in Vietnam since 1990. The Right to be Heard programme was a response to people’s concerns about growing inequality and vulnerability. It was hoped that it would enable the government to create more space for local participation in key development issues, plans, policies, and programmes, and to help minority groups and women find a voice. The programme also focused on building constructive dialogue between local officials and communities, particularly in terms of planning. It included strategies to strengthen local people’s awareness on policies such as the Grassroots Democracy Ordinance, and constitutional and citizens’ rights. 4 This paper looks at a project that aimed to strengthen the participation of poor women and men of the Raglai ethnic minority group in government policies and programmes in Bac Ai district in Ninh Thuan province. The poverty rate for areas where many Raglai people live is high – for example, in Bac Ai in 2009 the pover ty rate was 54 per cent, compared with 10 per cent for the whole of the province.  5 The project worked in four communes: Phuoc Tan, Phuoc Tien, Phuoc Chinh, and Phuoc Thang. As well as targeting Raglai ethnic minority men and women, it had a particular focus on women’s participation and leadership. The programme was carried out in a number of stages between 2007 and 2010. First, Oxfam carried out an analysis of the social and power dynamic and status of community-based organizations (CBOs). This showed that they did not have the necessary skills to mobilize people’s participation – for example, skills in communication, negotiation, or facilitation, or the ability to supervise implementation. Next, it focused on raising awareness of local Raglai men and women on their rights and responsibilities, so that they could participate in plans and development issues at local level. The project did this in a number of ways, including: ã  Small group discussions using pictures and practical examples; ã  Theatre related to issues in the village, written and performed by villagers; ã  Recorded tapes in the Raglai language; ã  Live broadcasting in Raglai and Vietnamese through loudspeakers; ã  Production and distribution of posters and leaflets; ã  Training on participatory planning and other issues for members of CBOs and local commune authorities; ã  Forming Village Development Boards and strengthening Community Investment Monitoring Boards; ã  Training on the Grassroots Democracy Ordinance;
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