Land info, leaders’ bio not state secrets, Vietnam MPs aver

By Nguyen Hoai   October 27, 2018 | 05:16 pm PT
Land info, leaders’ bio not state secrets, Vietnam MPs aver
Members of Vietnam's legislative National Assembly attend a session in Hanoi. Photo by Reuters/Kham
Many parliamentarians say national leaders’ bio-data and information on land should not be classified as state secrets.

In recent discussions at the ongoing National Assembly (NA) session, they expressed their unease over the inclusion of information about high-level leaders and land in a bill on protection of state secrets.

Under article 7 of the bill, personal information about Party leadership, information about national defense, land, geology, sea, industry, trade and other subjects can be classified as confidential information.

NA deputies said this was too broad based, with several subjects not related to the state.

Truong Trong Nghia, a deputy from Ho Chi Minh City, said “it will do more harm than good” when domestic and foreign policies, which should be disseminated publicly along with a lot of information not related to the state, are now deemed confidential information.

“The government should disseminate and popularize the family background and leadership career of national leaders so that people can learn from them. Additionally, database of the financial and banking sector need to be public information in many instances, but this bill classifies all of this,” Nghia said.

He proposed that the definition of confidential information and state secrets be clarified first.

"If this bill is passed, it could prove contentious and have unexpected and negative consequences," he said.

The HCMC delegate supported his argument with his own experience in searching for information about Vietnam. Because Vietnam restricts access to some data that are classified as state secrets, he was forced to look it up on foreign sites, he said.

"If such a stringent regulation becomes a law, I am deeply concerned. The business community in Vietnam would be reluctant to have dialogues, negotiations, and share documents and information."

He expressed concerns that the regulation would hinder communication, information flow and in turn hinder socioeconomic growth.

Deputy Pham Nhu Hiep of the central Thua Thien Hue Province also wanted clarification on which information in the personal database about national and Party leaders would be classified, and how it would affect cases where there is a need to refer to personal information about them.

Hiep also commented that the health status of state officials should not be included as confidential information in the bill, as the Law on Health and Treatment already has a clause on the protection of patients’ information.

Deputy Tran Thi Quoc Khanh of Hanoi said the scope of this law was also “in conflict” with the Law on Access to Information that came into effect early August.

Adopting a business perspective, she said that while enterprises in other countries have access to the content of trade agreement that their country was negotiating and on the process of signing and building business strategies, Vietnam deems this information confidential.

"Already inexperienced Vietnamese enterprises will face even more challenges due to difficulties in accessing information and developing international business integration plans," she said.

She noted that in the environmental resources section, land information is listed as a state secret, while 70 percent of complaints in Vietnam are related to it.

Khanh said the drafting committee should specify which land segments should be stamped secret or public, rather than making it a general stipulation.

Responding to the criticism of many delegates that the state secrets protection bill was “abstract and too general,” Vo Trong Viet, chairman of the National Defense Security Committee, said that the scope of state secrets is crucial information that has not yet been publicized. If revealed, it will have a negative impact on the nation and people, Viet said.

He said the bill lays down 15 general issues that the central government should complement with more details. The drafting team will review these to ensure the principle of state secrecy will not affect other activities, he added.

Deputy Chairman of the National Assembly Do Ba Ty said that the bill stipulating 15 areas to determine state secrets was appropriate. However, he suggested that the drafting committee reviews the bill’s provisions to ensure its strictness and consistency with the right to access information.

The NA is expected to vote on the draft of the Law on Protection of State Secrets at the end of the month-long session, which will wrap up on November 21.

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