The United Nations (UN) will focus on providing upstream policy advice, helping Vietnam attain global standards and meet its commitments to international agreements, including supporting its aspiration for international financial integration, Resident Coordinator Pratibha said in a recent exclusive interview with the Vietnam Government Portal.

* What would you say about the partnership between Vietnam and the United Nations over the past 36 years?

The United Nations has been a key partner in Vietnam’s development, ever since Vietnam became the 149th member state of the UN on September 20, 1977.

In the early years of hardship and post-war reconstruction, UN agencies were on the ground providing assistance to Vietnam’s rebuilding efforts. As the ‘doi moi’ reforms began to take shape, the UN connected Vietnam with international expertise, knowledge and technical assistance to support the country’s rapid development progress – thereby improving the lives of millions of Vietnamese.

As Vietnam has become a lower middle income country, the role of the UN in Vietnam has evolved. Increasingly, we focus on providing upstream policy advice, helping Vietnam to attain global standards, and meet its commitments to international agreements, including supporting its aspiration for international financial integration.

Vietnam continues to play a very active role within the UN. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon visited Vietnam in 2010, and appreciates the active role the country plays in the UN, especially its successful tenure as a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council during the 2008-2009 term.

Vietnam also plays a key role in reforming the UN system. Volunteering to become one of eight pilot countries in 2006, Vietnam quickly became a showcase for the ‘Delivering as One’ reform initiative. This initiative aims to make the UN system work more efficiently and effectively together, thereby helping us to deliver better development results for the people of Vietnam. The success of the initiative here is in large part due to the strong commitment and leadership by the Government.

Earlier this year, Vietnam and the UN signed the One Plan for 2012-2016. This plan outlines the three key areas where the UN will provide support to Vietnam and its citizens over the next five years. The three areas are: inclusive, equitable and sustainable growth; access to quality essential services and social protection; and governance and participation. The One Plan focuses on the principles of equity and inclusiveness and aims to make sure that all the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are achieved in all parts of Vietnam.

* At the focus of this partnership is the implementation of millennium development goals, could you update the progress of these goals? What are the United Nations’ recommendations for Vietnam to accelerate the fulfillment of the unreached goals?

Vietnam is one of the countries that have made the most significant progress towards achieving the MDGs. Indeed, Vietnamese citizens must have felt proud when by 2010, the country was ranked 6th globally in terms of progress, both in absolute and relative terms.

Vietnam has managed to halve the poverty rate from 58.1 percent in 1993 to 28.9 percent in 2002 and then to 9.6 percent in 2012. Major gains have also been made in education and gender equality. Vietnam has moved towards universal primary education with the net enrolment rate (NER) for primary education reaching 97.7 percent in 2012. There is also a high possibility of reaching the goals on child and maternal health before 2015. These impressive achievements are already having real and lasting impacts on people’s lives.

Despite the achievements, there are still gaps and challenges to fully meeting MDGs by 2015, especially for all groups of people in each province, district, and commune. The MDGs on HIV/AIDS, environmental sustainability, and global partnership are still lagging behind schedule and require additional efforts. MDG progress is also not even among regions and population groups: progress in ethnic minority areas lags far behind national averages. Without additional efforts there is a high risk that the MDGs will not be achieved among ethnic minority groups by 2015. New forms of poverty are emerging in urban areas and among the households of migrant-workers and workers in informal sectors as the results of economic slowdown and macro-economic instability. Climate change also risks having negative impacts on many aspects of the wellbeing of Vietnamese households, especially the most vulnerable ones, and may reverse the MDG progress that Vietnam has made so far.

To make progress I believe that Vietnam should focus on accelerating its efforts and resources to address (i) those MDGs which are lagging behind, such as on HIV/AIDs and a sustainable environment; and (ii) population groups and areas where MDG progress is lagging behind, particularly in ethnic minority groups and areas where they mostly reside. We need concrete action plans with time-bound targets, clear actions, responsibilities, corresponding resource allocation and clear frameworks for monitoring and evaluation.
For example, to speed up in achieving the targets on HIV/AIDS, Vietnam needs to increase community awareness and knowledge related to intravenous drug use and safe sexual behaviors to avoid stigma and discrimination, and to provide a standardized package of services. As donor support to Vietnam is decreasing now that its reached lower middle income status, it’s also crucial to increase national resources and mobilise the required budgets to continue the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Given their particular vulnerability, special focus must be paid to ethnic minorities and many policies/programs have been developed and implemented to support their needs. Nevertheless, ethnic minority groups still lag behind in all MDGs. This suggests that Vietnam needs to review the country’s ethnic minority policies/programs and revise both mainstream and targeted development policies to ensure greater harmonization, streamlining, coordination, and coherence. Continued investment in infrastructure is also necessary, but not sufficient in itself to address ethnic minority poverty. Just as important is improving the quality of services available to ethnic minorities. From our experience across the world, we believe that focusing support on poor households, and not just poor areas, is also a critical approach in addressing chronic poverty. Conditional cash transfer, empowerment of ethnic minorities to participate in social activities and decision making process, could be relevant measures.

Finally, to make sure that all the MDGs are achieved in all provinces and communes of Vietnam, reforms are needed to promote more sustainable, inclusive, equitable, and resilient growth. This means growth that all population groups, particularly most vulnerable groups such as ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, the poor, unregistered migrants, women and children, can actively and equally participate in and benefit from. Effective reforms in public investment and state-owned enterprises could increase the fiscal space to allow for more internal resources for investing in poverty reduction, social sectors (e.g. education and health), and social protection. Radical public administration and institutional reforms are essential for the country to effectively mobilize and use resources, to ensure equitable access to public services for all, to ensure participation of all groups in the society’s activities, and to be quick in response to crisis and emerging issues. Among the reforms, the role of South-South cooperation should be emphasized to help Vietnam learn international experience, good practices and innovative approaches.

* In coming years, what areas of cooperation that Vietnam and the United Nations will foster?

Vietnam has great potential and the UN will continue to support Vietnam in its socio-economic development process such that all people can benefit from the national progress. We are committed to help ensure equity, inclusive development, better quality of services to enhance people’s capabilities, responsive governance and accountability. Also in the coming years, Vietnam as a member state of the UN will shape the post-2015 global development agenda and the UN System will support in its implementation.

In addition to our ongoing program, the UN is committed to further cooperation in reducing inequalities and vulnerabilities. Taking people living with disabilities as an example, a recent analysis from Vietnam Household Living Standards Survey based on the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF) suggests that as many as 15.3 percent of Vietnam’s population living with disability. Vietnam is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and is actively considering ratification of the Convention. The UN believes that active partnership between the State and disabled people’s organizations will be vital if Vietnam is to effectively implement the Convention. The UN will therefore help strengthen the capacities and role of disabled people’s organizations in the advocacy, development, implementation and monitoring of legal frameworks and policies.-VNA