Politicians and their empty promises

November 15, 2021 | 07:07 pm PT
Nguyen Khac Giang Researcher
It is in a politician's job description to paint visions of bright futures for their voters. But those visions don't always come true.

In the U.S., the non-profit project Politifact by the Poynter Institute for Media Studies monitors presidents and their promises.

It provides data insights to see whether the nation's leaders could fulfill their vows. For example, Biden has upheld around 12 percent of what he had promised voters during his first year of residency. That figure for Obama was 47 percent and 23 percent for Trump.

Promises and their feasibility are what define the career of a politician. In the eyes of citizens, it is an indicator of their competence and trustworthiness, of whether they can practice what they preach.

There's a similar forum for Vietnamese politicians: National Assembly hearings. Members of the government, including ministers, take turns and answer questions from elected representatives. It is like thesis defense for government officials.

Such hearings are often an opportunity for politicians to highlight their achievements and outline future plans. The words they speak and the commitments they make become public knowledge and new goals and assignments for them to follow through.

As someone who monitors the policymaking process, I pay attention to the questions and answers at the hearings. But as a citizen, I care a lot more about whether our politicians keep their promises.

Ever since 1998, when National Assembly sessions were broadcast on national television, ministers have been seen by the electorate making commitments and promises. But there is no one to monitor them and see whether they are realized or not.

A promise was the transport minister saying the Cat Linh-Ha Dong metro rail would begin commercial operations at the end of 2018. But the service only started this month.

I'm sure people ask "Why don't ministers do what they say or at least outline a plan to resolve existing issues?"

To address such concerns, National Assembly chairman Vuong Dinh Hue has said, the "promises" by ministers must be monitored and evaluated.

But I do not think such an approach will be effective, at least not in the long run.

Dodging questions and giving vague, inaccurate or misleading answers have become an art form with many politicians. They can distract the populace with fancy words or focus on a particular issue but only try to resolve it in the short-term. For example, increasing the GDP of a particular locality does not always mean better investments, but can be projects with little value like building gates and erecting statues.

Critics say this is merely hiding shortcomings behind shiny facades.

One solution is introducing monitoring systems, for example through a committee. But often these committees take up space and require resources to operate. Besides, if there is a committee for monitoring, who will monitor that committee in the first place?

I believe it is the public that should play the role of watchdog. In many countries, companies, organizations and individuals keep an eye on politicians and what they promised. Politifact is one such.

Failing to fulfill one's promises should come with consequences. While Vietnamese law does have provisions to dismiss government officials with a "low reputation," the voting required to effect that is often too time-consuming and inefficient.

Back in my school days teachers used to call up their students before every class to see if they had learned their previous lessons.

I think it is time we put our politicians to similar tests.

By asking them difficult and relentless questions, and showing them the consequences of an unsatisfactory answer, maybe we can finally make them do their homework.

*Nguyen Khac Giang is a researcher in policy making and government transparency. He is a PhD candidate at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand. The opinions expressed are his own.

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