When Vietnam’s Law on Access to Information took effect in July 2018, it was long overdue. For many years, citizens had found it very difficult to get government guidance on vital issues like health care, borrowing and employment. Businesses had needed to use personal connections to access information held by state agencies, which regularly refused to clarify policies and share socio-economic development plans. Needless to say, few businesses and citizens could hold their government accountable using information.
Transparency International’s national chapter in Vietnam, Towards Transparency has long been trying to change this and ensure the right to information that was acknowledged in the 1992 constitution.
From the day in 2015 that the Ministry of Justice opened the draft right to information law to public debate, Towards Transparency has worked to raise it to the highest international standards.
Executive Director Nguyen Thi Kieu Vien and her team organised a collaboration with the Ministry of Justice and other civil society organisations, nationally and internationally. They worked together to compile concrete guidelines for the drafting committee to ensure the law was strong and could be effective. Four of the key recommendations were included in the final law, which was also more precise and concise than previous drafts.
In 2017, Towards Transparency approached the Ministry of Justice to see what continued technical support was needed in developing the decree on the implementation of the new law. However, because approval was not received from the Communist Party, the ministry was not able to collaborate with independent organisations. A compromise was reached: Towards Transparency and the Ministry of Justice would work together under a more informal cooperation arrangement.
The Towards Transparency team worked to desensitise the issue of right to information. They invited Ministry of Justice officials to a workshop to share experiences of implementing right to information laws locally and globally. Together they produced a set of guidelines for implementation and planned a training programme for lawmakers with an international expert. Six of Towards Transparency’s recommendations were adopted in the decree guiding the implementation of the law.
The decree is expected to facilitate easy access to information, while reducing the organisational burden on state agencies.
The Towards Transparency team and partner organisations have also been promoting effective implementation directly with citizens and businesses, providing workshops on how to use the Law on Access to Information in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.
While Vietnam has recently strengthened citizens’ right to information through the legal framework, there is still a long way towards effective implementation. Most state agencies are still not saying how information can be requested, many local government employees have not been trained to process information requests and not enough citizens have been made aware of their rights.
Nonetheless, Vietnam has made significant steps forward with the right to information, showing how local and global collaboration can help ensure citizens’ rights are safeguarded at the highest levels of government.
This blog post is an extract from Transparency International’s publication, Real Lives, Real Stories: The Power Of Information In Asia Pacific. It contains stories of citizens from ten countries across the Asia Pacific region who have used their right to information to demand accountability from their governments.
We would like to thank Towards Transparency, our chapter in Vietnam, for writing and sharing this story.
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