Communist Review presents an article by Vu Van Ninh, member of the Party Central Committee, Deputy Prime Minister, head of the Central Steering Committee for Sustainable Poverty Reduction in the 2011 - 2020 period.

Eliminating hunger, reducing poverty, and improving the living conditions of the poor is not just a major consistent social policy of the Vietnamese Party and State but it is also an important part and a strategic focus in Vietnam’s socio-economic development strategy. Over the years, the Government, ministries and sectors have been keen on researching, reviewing, building and issuing mechanisms and policies on sustainable poverty reduction, regularly fine-tuned and adjusted mechanisms and policies embracing reality. As a result, the beneficiaries and funding for the poor have been expanded, meeting the aspirations of the poor... Programmes and policies on poverty reduction have mobilised the power and the participation of the entire political system and society.

1- Though the world has achieved significant progress in many fields concerning economics, science, and society, poverty has emerged as an urgent global issue. The fight against hunger and poverty has been a central goal of sustainable development of countries around the world even in this era of civilisation. Growth creates a need to ensure balance and effectiveness and to combine economic growth with addressing social and environmental issues.

Hunger eradication and poverty reduction is not just the passive redistribution of income nor merely a one-way support for disadvantaged people. It is also an important factor to balance growth, create an abundant production force, and ensure stability and sustainability for the period of “take-off”. Hence, hunger eradication and poverty reduction is the goal, the precondition, and the measure of growth and sustainable development and is a fundamental factor to ensure social equity.

Hunger eradication and poverty reduction cannot be sustained by providing support tools for the poor but needs policies and measures to prevent and limit risks and provide new development methods to help the poor escape from poverty. This is the goal, motivation, and necessary condition to ensure the success of rapid and sustainable hunger eradication and poverty reduction.

Assessing the sustainability of poverty reduction cannot be based only on the reduced number of poor individuals, poor households, poor communes, and poor districts, but also other criteria and multi-dimensional approaches which include: improving the real incomes of the poor and poor households, helping them to cross the poverty line, minimising the poverty relapse in terms of incomes, creating opportunities for them to access production resources created by society, improving support services for the poor, providing them with minimum conditions to prevent poverty relapse due to natural disasters, flooding, or epidemics, and ensuring an equal access to education, vocational training, and health care.
Considering human as the centre and the ultimate goal of social development, hunger eradication, poverty reduction and care for the poor is not only a major and consistent policy that the Vietnamese Party and State pay special attention to, but is also a key factor in Vietnam’s socio-economic development strategy which aims to improve material and spiritual life for the poor and narrow the development gaps between regions, areas, ethnic groups and population sections, and is an important element in realising the socialist orientation while reflecting Vietnam’s determination to achieve the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations that Vietnam has committed to.

During the early days of national independence (1945), President Ho Chi Minh identified poverty as an “enemy”, like illiteracy and foreign invaders. The President appealed for efforts to help labourers escape from misery and distress, ensuring that “everyone has enough food, clothing and access to education”. During the two prolonged wars of resistance of the Vietnamese nation, emulation movements on excellent production and raising productivity, and “fields of five-tone rice output” models became popular and widely responded to by the people and the army, with specific actions to defend the nation, develop the economy, and stabilise people’s lives.

Throughout many national Congresses of the Communist Party of Vietnam, especially during the renewal process, hunger eradication and poverty reduction continued to be confirmed as a major policy, long-term objective, and specific task of the country’s socio-economic development. After setting out poverty reduction guidelines at the 5th Plenum of the 7th Party Central Committee in 1992 and reviewing the outcomes of hunger eradication and poverty reduction in the 1992 -1997 period, the 8th National Party Congress in 1996 identified hunger eradication and poverty reduction as one of the key tasks of the 5-year socio-economic development plan in the 1996 - 2000 period with the target of reducing the poverty rate from between 20 percent and 25 percent in 1996 to 10 percent in 2000.

While setting orientations and tasks for national development in the 2011 - 2015 period, the 11th National Party Congress continued to pay much attention to hunger eradication and poverty reduction. The Congress stressed the need to “focus on effectively implementing hunger eradication and poverty reduction programs in remote and especially disadvantaged areas and diversify resources and methods to eradicate hunger and reduce poverty in association with promoting agriculture, rural areas, education, vocational training and job generation to ensure sustainable hunger eradication and poverty reduction” and set a target of reducing the number of poor households by 2 percent per year. "The Platform on national construction in the transitional period to socialism" (revised in 2011) sets out the tasks of “promoting legal richness in parallel with sustainable poverty reduction in order to narrow rich-poor differences between regions, areas, and classes and fine-tune the social welfare system”.

One of the contents regarding social policies in the 2012 - 2020 period that the Resolution of the 5th Plenum of the 11th Party Central Committee emphasised is “Accelerating the implementation of the Government’s resolution and the National Target Program on Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction, focusing on poverty reduction policies for poor districts; prioritising the poor of ethnic minority groups in poor districts, border communes, safety zone communes, especially disadvantaged communes, villages and hamlets, and coastal and island areas; narrowing the gaps in living standards and social welfares against the average level of the country; considering amendments and supplements to supportive policies for near-poor households to reduce poverty sustainably; striving to raise the per capita income of poor households to 3.5 folds higher than the figure of 2010 by 2020, reducing the poverty rate by 1.5 percent to 2 percent per year, and in districts and communes with high poverty rates, by 4 percent per year according to periodic poverty criteria”.

Responding to the guidelines and targets set out at Party Congresses, the Government, ministries, sectors and localities have considered revising and fine-tuning policies on poverty reduction as their key and regular tasks. Major resolutions, decrees, strategies, decisions and policies on hunger eradication and poverty reduction have been issued to match with different periods of national development. In 2002, the Comprehensive Strategy on Growth and Hunger Eradication and Poverty Reduction was approved by the Prime Minister, in which hunger eradication and poverty reduction was considered an integral part of the country’s socio-economic development strategy to realise orientations on economic growth and poverty reduction.

In the " Strategy on Socio-economic Development 2011 - 2020", sustainable poverty reduction is considered to be the key priority in “enhancing the effectiveness of poverty reduction policies embracing each period, diversifying resources and methods to ensure sustainable poverty reduction, especially in the poorest districts and especially disadvantaged areas, encouraging people to become rich legally, initiating appropriate policies and solutions to limit wealth disparity” and setting the target of reducing the number of poor households by 1.5 percent to 2 percent per year in the whole strategic period.

To mobilise resources for the poorest districts in the country, the Government in December 2008, issued Resolution No. 30a/2008/NQ-CP on a Programme of Rapid and Sustainable Poverty Reduction for 62 poor districts, creating drastic changes in the material and spiritual lives of the poor and ethnic minority people in poor districts so that by 2020 they will have living conditions equal to other districts in the region...

Government Resolution No. 80/NQ-CP, dated May 19, 2011, on orientations on sustainable poverty reduction from 2011 to 2020 defines a harmonious and comprehensive poverty reduction program and creates a new approach in rapid and sustainable poverty reduction. This serves as a firm foundation for developing a system of policies, programmes and projects, directly supporting the poor and poor households nationwide and at the same time mobilising resources for rapid and sustainable poverty reduction in ethnic minority regions, aiming at raising the per capita income of poor households 3.5 folds and reducing the rate of poor households in the country by 2 percent per year and 4 percent a year for poor districts and communes according to poverty criteria of each period. The Government has demonstrated its determination to fulfill the UN Millennium Development Goals that Vietnam has committed to.

In the Government’s Action Program to implement Resolution No. 15-NQ/TW of the 11th Party Central Committee on some issues concerning social welfare policies in the 2012 - 2020 period, the poverty reduction task was clearly identified: “Continue to effectively implement the Government’s Resolution No. 80/NQ-CP dated May 19, 2011 on orientations for sustainable poverty reduction from 2011 to 2020 and Resolution No. 30a/2008/NQ-CP dated December 27, 2012 on the Programme of Rapid and Sustainable Poverty Reduction in poor districts and the National Target Programme of Sustainable Poverty Reduction, amendments and supplements to policies for near poor households”.

Based on the orientations for poverty reduction, a system of policies on comprehensive poverty reduction has been issued for poor districts, especially disadvantaged communes, villages and hamlets, poor households and the poor. They include the National Target Programme on Poverty Reduction, the Programmes for Socio-Economic Development in especially disadvantaged communes, villages and hamlets, the mountainous and ethnic minority regions (Programme 135) in the 5-year plans, regional economic development programmes incorporated with poverty reduction such as socio-economic development programmes for border areas, and socio-economic development assistance programmes for the north-central, central coastal, Central Highland regions, the Mekong Delta and the northern mountainous regions. Some programmes have been integrated including programmes on creating livelihoods for the poor (Employment programme, 5 million ha afforestation programme, national programmes on agricultural, forestry and fishery extension, credit programmes…), programmes on social infrastructure investment (schools, clinics, community house, communal cultural postal centers, clean water, markets...), on production infrastructure (transport, irrigation, electricity...); national target programmes on increasing poor people’s access to basic social services (health care, education, clean water, housing…); programmes on building models of technological application and transfer for rural and mountainous regions; programmes on building new rural areas, incentives on electricity fee support for poor households, emergency support for low-income households, provision of rice for poor districts and communes that are hit by natural disasters and during crop intervals...

In its poverty reduction policies, the Government highlights the importance of raising the level of health insurance support for certain near-poor households, in addition to incentives for the poor, near poor households and households newly escaped from poverty in order to prevent poverty relapse and ensure sustainable poverty reduction. The Government has also provided preferential credits for households newly escaped from poverty in a certain period, and provided preferential loans with an interest rate to poor households to raise their responsibility in using credit.

A central agency in charge of poverty reduction and a Steering Committee for Poverty Reduction have been set up with an office system from central to local levels. The Central Steering Committee for Sustainable Poverty Reduction is headed by a Deputy Prime Minister.

Particularly, amidst the country’s numerous economic difficulties, the Government has prioritised resources for policies and programmes on poverty reduction and social welfare including policies on supporting the poor in health care, education, housing, preferential credits, vocational training for rural workers, policies under the National Target Programme on Poverty Reduction, Resolution No. 30a/2008/NQ-CP (7) and other emergency allowance policies… In 2011 total funding for implementing social welfare policies was about 243 trillion VND. In 2012 it was more than 324 trillion VND, equivalent to 35.8 percent of the total State budget spending, up 33.2 percent against the implemented budget in 2011. In 2011 - 2012 period, the National Assembly and the Government continued allocating 70.9 trillion VND for implementing poverty reduction policies and 9.35 trillion VND for the National Target Programme on Poverty Reduction in the 2012 - 2015 period. The State allocates 6.84 trillion VND for poor districts to implement specific policies under Government Resolution No. 30a.

2- In recent years, the Government, ministries and sectors have paid special attention to researching, reviewing, building and issuing mechanisms and policies on sustainable poverty reduction, regularly fine-tuned, amended and supplemented mechanisms and policies embracing reality, expanded target beneficiaries, and raised the support-level to meet the aspirations of poor people and poor households…
Localities have resolutely responded to Government resolutions, and mechanisms and policies of ministries and sectors and realised them in specific programmes, projects and action programmes embracing the local situation, proactively and creatively disseminated information and mobilised the public to participate in these programmes, and allocated appropriate budget and funding to these programmes. Some localities have proactively improved policies to better serve the people by adjusting the poverty criteria, raising the support levels, concretising targets, and assigning authorities at different levels to implement and change the approaches to poverty reduction… The model, which combines economics and national defense implemented by national defense economic groups, has helped poor, ethnic minority people in border areas and especially disadvantaged areas obtain jobs and stable incomes and gradually and sustainably escape from poverty.

Economic groups and corporations have overcome difficulties and actively, effectively and responsibly participated in sustainable poverty reduction programmes by helping people participate in production and buying their products, thus creating stable incomes for them and contributing to local hunger eradication and poverty reduction. From 2009 to 2011 State-owned economic groups and corporations implemented and disbursed support funding worth nearly 1.62 trillion VND, approximately 80 percent of the 2.14 trillion VND committed.

Despite numerous economic difficulties, the Poverty Reduction Programme has, in the last two years, surpassed the set targets. On average, the rate of poor households in Vietnam fell 2 percent per year, the rate of poor households in 62 poor districts under Resolution No. 30a/NQ-CP fell more than 7 percent per year, more than 1 million poor households accessed preferential credit to develop production, nearly 2 million households accessed students credit so that 2.3 million children went to school, more than 4 million poor students received tuition exemption or reduction as well as study subsidiaries; nearly 1.1 million people were provided with short-term vocational training, more than 12,000 poor households participated in poverty reduction models, the average income of poor households increased by 15 percent, 25 percent of rural laborers found jobs, more than 500,000 poor households received housing assistance, 29 million poor people and ethnic minority people were given free health insurance cards, more than 10 percent of near-poor people were paid 70 percent of their health insurance costs by the State budget… By 2012 more than 8,500 people went overseas to work as the program on guest workers has been in place for four years. The human resources involved in poverty reduction have been strengthened in both quality and quantity: 467 officials and more than 1,000 young graduates volunteered to work in poor districts, 580 out of 600 outstanding graduates were mobilised to the posts of Commune Deputy Chairpersons in 62 poor districts...

The poverty reduction programmes and policies have rallied the strength and the participation of the entire political system and society, authorities and Party committees at different levels, economic groups, enterprises, social and political organisations, and the poor themselves. The poverty reduction work in Vietnam has gained remarkable achievements. These achievements have been recognised by Vietnamese people and highly appreciated by international friends. Many countries and international organizations consider Vietnam a bright and successful example in eradicating hunger, reducing poverty and achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals. According to the report titled “Well Begun, Not Yet Done: Vietnam’s Remarkable Progress on Poverty Reduction and the Emerging Challenges” that the World Bank released on January 24, 2013, Vietnam’s poverty rate fell from 60 percent to 20.7 percent in the last 20 years (1990 - 2010) with more than 30 million people having escaped from poverty. In addition, Vietnam had impressive achievements in education and health care. The primary schooling rate among the poor was more than 90 percent and the secondary schooling rate was 70 percent.

3- In addition to the achieved results, the implementation of the Programme for Sustainable Poverty Reduction has revealed certain limitations and shortcomings that need to be overcome: the poverty reduction rate was rapid but not sustainable; the wealth gap between regions, and between population groups remains large; many areas are still disadvantaged and in some regions the poverty rate is as high as 60 percent or 70 percent; ethnic minority people account for nearly 50 percent of poor households in the country; per capita income of ethnic minority households is only one-sixth the national average.

There are several reasons behind these limitations and shortcomings: the large number of policies has resulted in scattered and overlapping resources, leading to inefficiency of resource distribution and utilisation; some localities and households have become dependent on the state instead of striving to escape from poverty; some Party committees and authorities have not paid due, timely and regular attention to implementing the Programme or to poor people’s demands and aspirations; state resources face many difficulties, especially in the current period; poor integration between programmes and projects has resulted in ineffective use of resources; some mechanisms and policies are not practical and amendments and supplements to these policies are not updated; persuasion and the dissemination of information to raise public awareness about poverty reduction have not been regularly organised.

Vietnam has learned some lessons in fulfilling poverty reduction targets:

First, hunger eradication and poverty reduction is long-term work that is closely associated with the country’s socio-economic development, so it is necessary to be persistent in pursuing the targets in both policy making and implementation, not be too hasty to achieve the targets. It is also important to encourage the poor to make their own efforts to escape from poverty sustainably;

Second, policies on poverty reduction need to be reviewed and evaluated regularly and systematically to help the poor and ethnic minority people access resources more easily and effectively; ineffective policies should be revised or replaced immediately;

Third, the state resources play a decisive role, so when the State budget is in difficulty, it is necessary to closely combine pilot models and representative models, give priority to and timely allocate budget to implement programmes and projects on poverty reduction in poor localities (poor districts, communes, especially disadvantaged villages and hamlets), and at the same time, mobilise resources from the community, businesses, international organisations and efforts by poor households;

Fourth, on the basis of policies and the Programme on Sustainable Poverty Reduction, localities need to work out specific plans and solutions to match local economic and social conditions and local people’s customs; and

Fifth, policies and programs on poverty reduction need to be reviewed and evaluated regularly at different levels, especially the grassroots level, to identify beneficiaries, organise the implementation, and detect limitations and shortcomings for proper revisions.

4- Under the set targets: by the end of 2013 the rate of poor households in Vietnam will be reduced by 2 percent per year (from 9.6 percent to 7.6 percent); in poor districts will be reduced by 4 percent per year (from 43.89 percent in 2012 to 38.89 percent in 2013); by the end of 2015 the rate of poor households in the country will be below 5 percent according to the current poverty criteria; and the poverty rate in poor districts will be below 30 percent. To achieve these targets, Vietnam needs to focus on the following activities beginning in 2013:

First , sustainable poverty reduction needs to be pursued consistently, regularly and continuously. The State, society and the community need to be aware of their responsibility for poverty reduction, joining efforts to help the poor escape from poverty sustainably. It is especially important to encourage poor people to be voluntary, proactive and responsible in getting rid of poverty.

Second, it is necessary to continue reviewing and refining mechanisms and policies on sustainable poverty reduction to ensure uniformity and integration, effective policies should be strengthened, and ineffective policies need to be immediately revised to meet the current reality.

The building and issuing of new support policies needs to be expanded to those who have just escaped from poverty and are near poor to minimise poverty relapse and sustain poverty reduction; it is important to pay particular attention to vocational training, combining job creation with production assistance, developing agriculture, farmers, and rural areas and building new rural areas to reduce poverty sustainably. Policies should be designed on the principle of giving first priority to poor households and then to households who recently escaped from poverty and near-poor households.

Orientations for poverty reduction in the near future should categorise target groups to work out specific proper policies in terms of road maps, beneficiary categories and incentives to gradually reduce “give away” policies for certain groups, while increasing policies on production assistance, vocational training, job creation and encouraging the poor to strive forward to escape from poverty.

Third, it is necessary to create prerequisites and conditions to eradicate hunger and reduce poverty sustainably through the formation of links between science, technology and production, construction, especially in agriculture and rural areas.

Fourth, localities need to integrate targets of poverty reduction programs into their annual socio-economic development plans, and review and evaluate the implementation of these targets. Efforts should be made to integrate the National Target Programme on Poverty Reduction into other national target programs, particularly the National Target Programme on Building New Rural Areas, and give funding allocation priority to implement this programme.

Fifth, to increase the effectiveness of communication programs on poverty reduction, it is necessary to detect, popularise, honor and replicate role models, criticize negative phenomena in poverty reduction, and create high consensus in society to achieve the targets of sustainable poverty reduction. And

Sixth, the Central Committee of the Vietnam Fatherland Front and its affiliate organisations should continue to mobilise enterprises, social organisations and the public to contribute resources to hunger eradication and poverty reduction, while strengthening the supervision and inspection of policy implementation at all levels and in all sectors to ensure the effectiveness of the policies.-VNA