What's keeping Vietnamese people up at night?

By Hoang Thuy   June 9, 2017 | 04:00 am PT
What's keeping Vietnamese people up at night?
Parents wait overnight outside a hospital in Da Nang to get a vaccine shot for their babies. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong
Legislators have been discussing what they call the biggest public concerns, from the food they eat to the bribes they have to pay.

Life in Vietnam is inhibited by many daily concerns that range from a lack of food and traffic safety to environmental damage and rampant corruption that allows money to rule, a senior lawmaker has said.

Dang Thuan Phong, vice chairman of the parliamentary Committee for Social Affairs, made the statement on Friday at a National Assembly meeting as he listed the problems that affect every part of Vietnamese life, a collection he called “the concerns of the Vietnamese”.

One of them is a lack of government transparency.

“People sweat to contribute money to the government, but there are alarming signs of corruption and waste,” Phong told legislators.

He said people are worried about the state budget deficit, high public debts and ineffective public investment.

The rate of overspending is three times that of economic growth, while current public debt is equivalent to $1,000 per person in a country where the average annual salary was just $2,200 last year.

He said the influence money has on society also frustrates many people.

“Money has degraded society, and sometimes even influences policy-making,” he said, referring to bribery in Vietnam.

A survey conducted by the Berlin-based Transparency International earlier this year of more than 20,000 people in 16 Asia Pacific economies found the highest rates of bribery in Vietnam and India.

The Governance and Public Administration Performance Index, which interviewed around 14,000 residents in all 63 Vietnamese provinces and cities in April, also highlighted “noticeable spikes” in reports of bribes given for everything from civil service positions to good grades. Around 54 percent of respondents said bribes were required to get government jobs, up from 51 percent in 2015 and 46 percent in 2011.

Phong said bribery gets in the way of every aspect of life: when a person needs a good hospital to give birth, when parents need a good school for their children, when someone needs to find a job or get a promotion, and even when someone is trying to avoid criminal prosecution.

Across the country, parents can be seen waiting all night outside public schools to find a place for their child or outside public hospitals waiting for a vaccine shot. Those who can afford to pay a bribe cut the line, but those who can't are forced to wait.

Vietnamese people also have to worry about very basic things such as the food they eat and the traffic they encounter every day, Phong said.

Traffic accidents kill a person every hour in Vietnam, among the highest rates in the world, while unsafe food is considered a widespread problem.

At another meeting earlier this week, lawmakers said most Vietnamese people do not feel the food they eat is safe, and that unsafe food is causing them a “long, slow death”.

Phong said many Vietnamese people are worried that their children's lives will be even worse as forests and natural resources are being depleted, and the country’s rush to open door to foreign investors without cautious assessment can turn Vietnam into a place for outdated technology.

“Once the environment is lost, no amount of money will be able to bring it back,” he said.

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