On 27 March 2013 in Hanoi, CARE International in Vietnam, Oxfam in Vietnam, and the three Coalitions for clean water, mineral and land forest co-organised a workshop on Sharing Experiences in Implementing the Law on Access to Information.

Participants included representatives from central, provincial and communal authorities and civil society organisations. The discussions focused on sharing experiences and initial successes and challenges in implementing the Law on Access to Information (LAI) in Vietnam. Participants also recommended actions to move this Law forward.

Mrs. Nguyen Quynh Lien (Ministry of Justice, the focal ministry in developing and disseminating the LAI) said after two years of preparation and eight months of implementation, the Ministry has urged other ministries, agencies and provinces to implement the Law according to planned progress. It also works to remove barriers in the process as mandated by the central government. The Ministry has issued the regulation on information provision, which can be used as a reference for other agencies. According to Mrs. Lien, all entities responsible for providing information as required by the LAI have issued their own regulations. In addition, the Ministry has also conducted intensive training for state agencies, who are expected to fully review their implementation process in 2021.

–          Some of the articles in the Law on Access to Information are not yet compatible with articles related to the freedom of information stated in the international convention of which Vietnam is a member.

–          Many state agencies are providing information according to different Laws, yet not according to the LAI.

(Extracted from the initial review report by the Research Group from Oxfam and local partners in Ha Giang, Quang Binh and Da Nang)

Evidence from the field

The director of Dien Bien Department of Justice, Mr. Pham Dinh Que, told the participants that the Department had contributed to Decree 13 on guiding the implementation of the LAI and a series of workshops in the province to raise awareness about the Law, thanks to technical support from CARE. However, he raised concerns about the hesitation of certain local authorities in providing public information.

Many public employees may have not understood what information they can disclose while many agencies do not have staff competent to act as the focal point, according to Mr. Que. He also noticed that not all citizens were aware of their right to access to information or of the LAI itself. He recommended that methods of awareness raising be improved, remembering that, “in many information sessions, [public authorities] invite people to come and listen to a lengthy read of some written document. By the time the read is done, time is over or two thirds of the people have left.”

From Cho Moi district, Bac Kan province, the chairperson of Thanh Van Commune’s People’s Committee also shared his communes’ experience. Mr. Ha Van Huong told the workshop about Law and Rights Clubs (LARCs) that CARE has helped to set up. Participation is voluntary. Members meet every Thursday to share information about issues they are interested in and play sports together. “This also helps us reduce our administrative workload as people do not necessarily come all the way to the Committee headquarters. They can text or call us by telephone,” he said. Mr. Huong also said it was crucial that all public agencies further improve the competencies of their staff, especially at grassroots level, in addition to improving the infrastructure and equipment for information provision and organising information sharing sessions for local people.

From Cao Bang Development Centre, DECEN, Ms. Ngoc Anh said that her organisation has set up Community Information Boards. In the two communes DECEN is operating, the hotline number is published and a letterbox displayed at the commune’s cultural house. Yet, half a year later and no one has sent any request for information. To cope with this, DECEN has used a tool called Community Score Card that enables villagers to share their interest in a more friendly, indirect way. As a result, many people, including very shy ethnic minority women, started to ask for information. One woman, for example, wondered why her family hadn’t received their certificate of forest land use after the local authority took it away. The Community Information Board then looked into this matter, found no relevant documents, and advised the woman to make a formal request to the district level.

Another challenge, according to Mrs. Le Thi Hong Hiep, director of SUDECOM (Yen Bai), is the recurrence of illiteracy among H’Mong communities, particularly H’Mong women.

Mr. Do The Anh from Towards Transparency, an organisation involved in providing inputs for the LAI and the subsequent Decree 13, recommended further research be done to understand why people have not made any request for information in the locations where the research team from Oxfam had reviewed.

Various participants also suggested ways to improve the initial report, and share their experiences and observations from the implementation process among ethnic minority and disabled populations. Experts at the workshop also updated on challenges in implementing the LAI in specific areas like the management and usage of environmental protection fee in mining activities, water pollution management, and forest protection.

The workshop is part of CARE’s work in the EU-funded project titled, “Increasing ethnic minority women’s access to information for improved governance and development”. The project is co-implemented by CARE and NorthNet members in Cao Bang, Dien Bien, and Bac Kan. The project aims at increasing ethnic minority women’s access to information on policies and programs that affect them. Another objective is to support lawmakers and authorities in ensuring ethnic minorities’ right to access information.