Progress and problems

Published : May 12, 2001 00:00 IST

The Ninth Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam takes stock of the country's progress in the last decade and identifies problem areas.

THE landmark Ninth Congress of the Communist Party of Vietnam ended in the fourth week of April with a younger generation of leaders taking over the party's leadership. Le Kha Phieu has been replaced as secretary-general by Nong Duc Manh. As the Speaker of the National Assembly, Manh had enhanced considerably the profile of the National Assembly in domestic politics. The Western media have been describing him as a reformer. Manh, 60, is an urbane and widely travelled person and United States officials have said that he is a man they can do business with. Le Kha Phieu became unpopular with the West after he spoke during the visit of U.S. President Bill Clinton last year about the need to put an end to American hegemonism and create a multipolar world.

The basic task of the Ninth Congress was to decide the orientation for Vietnam's development in the 21st century. It also analysed the achievements and shortcomings of the "doi moi" (renovation) process of the last 15 years. The country has escaped the serious effects of the economic downturn that affected other parts of South-East Asia. Vietnam produced 35.6 million tonnes of foodgrains last year. This helped the country to ensure food security of its people and export four million tonnes of grain. Vietnam is the second largest rice exporter in the world.

Vietnam's literacy rate is 91 per cent. But the party acknowledged that many problems remained. They include unstable economic development and low efficiency. The party listed corruption and "lifestyle degradation" as vices affecting its cadre and the administration. It has pledged to "scrupulously punish corrupt and irresponsible elements". In the last few years, many senior officials have been purged from the party for corruption and other economic crimes.

There seems to have been a conscious decision to infuse fresh blood into the party. The average age of the members of the new Central Committee is 55 years. Important reforms initiated under the guidance of Le Kha Phieu, are being implemented. The party leadership appears to have opted for continuity rather than a radical departure from the policies of the 1990s.

Phieu was not very popular among the rank and file. Do Muoi, former general secretary of the party, said recently that Phieu had made "mistakes in his work" but insisted that he was stepping down because of age. Phieu was reportedly keen on serving a second term but was outvoted in the Central Committee. Indications are that Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and President Tran Duc Luong will retain their jobs. Luong said that the goals of the party were to review the "71-year path of the Vietnamese Revolution, to make an assessment of the five-year implementation of the socio-economic strategy and to review the party's leadership". Another task, he said, was to elect a new Central Committee that really represented "political capacity and revolutionary morality, wisdom and ability in order to successfully accomplish the Resolutions of the ninth National Party Congress".

The four-day session selected new members for the 150-member Central Committee and constituted a smaller, 15-member Politburo. It was attended by 1,168 delegates representing 2.5 million members, 80 guest delegates and 34 international delegations. Among the international delegates was Harkishen Singh Surjeet, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist).

Before the Congress started, Planning and Investment Minister Tran Xuan Gia highlighted the significant achievements of the country in the past 10 years. He said that the gross domestic product (GDP) had risen more than two times as compared to the 1980s. The 1990s registered an annual growth rate of 7.5 per cent. Food output increased by 1.3 tonnes a year on an average, raising the per capita food share to 444 kg in 2000 from 340 kg in 1995. According to him, the growth rate of industrial production during 1991-2000 was 13.6 per cent a year on average, with the state-run sector posting 11.4 per cent and the non-state sector 11 per cent.

Interestingly, foreign investment accounted for 22.5 per cent of the total investment. Foreign trade also played an important role in the development of the economy. The value of exports during 1991-2000 was $67.3 billion, with an annual growth rate averaging 18.2 per cent. According to the Minister, trade deficit dropped sharply from 49.6 per cent in 1995 to just a few percentage points last year.

The state-run sector has retained a key role in the national economy, accounting for 39 per cent of GDP. The cooperative sector accounted for 8.5 per cent. Significantly, however, the non-state sector has a 52.2 per cent stake in the national economy. A report presented by the Central Committee at the Congress emphasised that the "leading role of the state economic sector is to be enhanced, governing key domains of the economy; state enterprises are to be renewed and developed, ensuring production and business efficiency". At the same time the party reiterated that it stood for the establishment of a socialist-oriented market economy and its smooth and efficient operation.

Tran Xuan Gia said that more than 10 million people had been provided with employment in the past 10 years and the poverty rate had dropped to 11 per cent in 2000 from 30 per cent in 1992 and 20 per cent in 1995. However, the Minister said that Vietnam still had to overcome other shortcomings and weaknesses. The economy was not very competitive and the purchasing power of the average Vietnamese was inadequate. There had been a slowdown in foreign investment, the Minister said, and emphasised that it was "necessary to remove obstacles in the investment and business environment".

There have been reports in the Western media that Nong Duc Manh would usher in another era of liberalisation, which they call the second "doi moi". But Congress documents indicate that Vietnam will pursue a cautious liberalisation policy. In the document "Strategy for Socio-Economic Development 2001-2010", the stated goal is the "synchronised formation of institutions of the socialist-oriented market economy". It further stated that if an efficient socialist-oriented market economy was to be created, the state administration had to be reformed, "abolishing administrative regulations which are heavily bureaucratic, subsidised, troublesome and harassing to enterprises and people and suppressing the development of productive forces".

One of the factors that helped Nong Duc Manh's sudden ascendancy is his ability to get things done. His predecessor was identified as a conservative who wanted to slow down the pace of reforms. Manh belongs to the "Tay" ethnic minority. There are rumours that Manh is in fact the biological son of the father of the nation - Ho Chi Minh. This rumour has added to his stature. Manh has, however, laughingly denied the story, saying that his parents died when he was very young and, for that matter, every Vietnamese is a son or daughter of the legendary Uncle Ho.

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