The risk of splitting and merging administrative territories

By Dang Hung Vo   October 24, 2020 | 09:45 am PT
It was not right for administrative agencies at all levels to repeatedly split and merge over the past two decades, many people reckon.
The risk of splitting and merging administrative territories

It seems these moves have yet to be thoroughly researched, analyzed for effectiveness and risks and evaluated for their impact on the country's daily life, especially the lives of the people living paycheck to paycheck and businesses that are struggling for every dong.

If changes to the administrative apparatus are made with the vague purpose of making management easier, then they should not be done.

While they might make management easier, they also create trouble for the public. The clearest and most visible impact I believe is the trouble of having to alter birthplaces and home addresses in documents such as ID cards, household registrations, land certificates, and other identity documents.

Thousands of businesses and other organizations have also had to remake their seals and discard tons of pre-printed envelopes and documents.

While the Land Law has a provision stating what the management system must do when changes are made to administrative units, legal risks and law enforcement risks are still ever-present in one form or another.

In a progressive country, before making any changes, their government must analyze costs and benefits in all aspects, and the changes should only be made if the overall benefit outweighs the overall loss.

To be more precise, when making changes to structures within the administration, the interest of the public must be placed at the center.

A decision to tweak the administrative apparatus must ensure that in the short term the costs to the public and businesses due to the change are borne by the government, and in the long term all formal and informal service costs are significantly lower and people's lives are much more comfortable.

I have read quite a bit about what the French did upon colonizing Indochina. They immediately established the Geographical Service of Indochina with its headquarters in Da Lat. They used aircraft to photograph the entirety of Indochina, made detailed maps and surveyed the region based on the maps.

From these surveys, they delineated the boundaries of administrative units based on the available natural boundaries and more important factors such as habitability and customs, personalities, accents, circumstances, and history of people in the area, including relationships between different groups.

If we temporarily set aside the element of colonial exploitation, we can see they did detailed research just one time, and to this day, despite the countless ups and downs of history, later generations can hardly arrange it any other way.

Our country has also gone through several general changes to the administrative apparatus.

After reunification, a major policy on administrative restructuring was set based on the principle of ‘small ministry, big province,’ with each district having to be an independent ‘economic fortress.’ Under this policy, every two to three old localities were merged into a new one, while even a small sector was turned into a cumbersome ministry.

However, the test of time showed that this philosophy of change was not good, and so the government decided to go the opposite direction with ‘big ministry, small province’ instead.

Many ministries were merged into super ministries, while localities were split up to again become how they had been in the old days.

It was yet another major change that was vaguely explained as based on "experience of foreign countries."

Despite the trend of ‘small province,’ there was also the exception of the entirety of Ha Tay Province being merged into Hanoi in 2008.

The culture of the old Ha Tay was absorbed into the culture of the capital, and many who loved the old Ha Tay cannot help but feel sad.

Areas of the old Ha Tay adjacent to the old Hanoi developed more strongly, but the center of the old Ha Tay still remained the same.

The National Assembly Standing Committee then issued a decree in 2016 on the standards and classifications of administrative units, and another decree in 2019 on the arrangement of district- and commune-level administrative units for 2019-21.

This was a new step toward standardizing the administrative system, switching to quantitative thinking with specific criteria for area, population and the number of administrative units in rural areas, and for socio-economic development for urban areas.

Many experts however found that these criteria were just formalities and lacked elements relating to local inhabitants such as identity, customs, characteristics, habits, ethnicity, and religion.

Furthermore, there was no stipulation that public funds must be used to pay for the cost of changing details on documents and seals by the public and businesses affected by the changes.

Once again poor people and businesses in many places were left unhappy.

Nowadays urban structures across the world are changing based on green philosophy and smart philosophy to reduce costs and increase benefits for the people.

A sustainable urban ecosystem is based on the symbiosis of actors operating within it, with the municipal government becoming a unit with its leaders elected by the people, and the municipal council representing the people in performing the task of being in control.

The higher levels of administration, such as in the case of a city composed of smaller cities with their own independent urban ecosystems, are only responsible for managing regional links to increase the efficiency of developmental works.

If megacities such as Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City can be organized on this model, it will help reduce administrative costs, reduce pollution and offer their inhabitants more benefits, especially once technology is used to create smart cities.

Part of HCMCs District 2 seen from above, September 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

Part of HCMC's District 2 seen from above, September 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran.

Ho Chi Minh City has proposed merging three districts of 2, 9 and Thu Duc into Thu Duc City, even though many of people's questions remain unanswered.

In terms of geoeconomics, Ho Chi Minh City is fully qualified to become a megacity, an important link in the chain of global coastal cities along the inter-ocean shipping route connecting the Pacific and Indian oceans.

However, I once again caught glimpses of formal thinking. The government could allow Ho Chi Minh City to formulate a master project to restructure the entirety of the municipal government under the new model with scientific research that incorporates the sharing economy and circular economy while ensuring feasibility.

But if the project only merges a large area in the east of the city into a new one while leaving smaller districts in other areas, I'm afraid the risk of ‘splitting, merging’ will loom once again.

*Dang Hung Vo is a former deputy minister of natural resources and environment whose work focuses include land management issues. The opinions expressed are his own.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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