On 23.08.2018, a workshop on Provincial Open Budget Index (POBI) 2017 dissemination and Plan for POBI 2018 survey was held in HCM city by Center for Development and Integration (CDI) in collaboration with Viet Nam Institute for Economic and Policy Research (VEPR). The workshop was under project “Promoting Public Transparency and Participation of People in State Budget Management” funded by Oxfam.
Participants were the workshop were representatives from HCM city People’s Committee, HCM Department of Finance, provinces (Binh Duong, Long An, Ben Tre, Tay Ninh, Ba Ria Vung Tau, Dak Nong), research institutes, universities, social organizations and mass media.
At the workshop, the findings of POBI 2017 survey were shared by Assoc. Prof. Vu Sy Cuong – research team leader, whereby provincial budget open indexes 2017 were various: on average, the Southern Central Coast got the highest one (40.7 points), followed by the Central Highlands (37.3 points) and the South East (33.3 points). More details by regions, Kon Tum lead the Central Highlands with 70.2 points, Ho Chi Minh city peaked the South East with 56.8 points and An Giang headed the Mekong Delta with 49.9 points.
Included in POBI 2017 survey was also the delay in implementation of Circular 343 on guidelines for state budget open for local levels. 81% of surveyed provinces (equivalent to 51/63 provinces) scored less than 50% in POBI 2017, of which 4 provinces got 0 point including Bac Lieu, Hau Giang, Tay Ninh and Ninh Binh. In terms of timeliness in publication of budget documents on electronic portals, many portals do not display posting time such as An Giang, Dak Nong, Long An, so it was difficult for surveyors to identify these documents have been timely published or not.
Full report of POBI 2017: http://ngansachvietnam.net/index.php/chi-so-cong-khai-ngan-sach-63-tinh-thanh-pobi/166-ket-qua-pobi-2017)
Efforts of the research team and especially purpose of POBI survey have been highly appreciated by many participants for the aim of openness, transparency and good governance of agencies. Luong Thu Huong, Lecturer of the Faculty of Law, Ho Chi Minh City Open University said that “POBI 2017 has created a great social effect” where provinces have opportunity to compare their score with other provinces in the region and the country. According to Huong, POBI findings can be a good reference for teaching and research process. Sharings from representative of Dak Nong Department of Finance revealed that when they received the survey questions, they got to know there was such a kind of survey. From then on, the province has concentrated on their portals and information disclose on the site. Previously, the portal update has not been an issue of interest. It was foreseen by the representative that provincial POBI 2018 result will be a change because provinces will improve their transparency. Ranking of the provinces will therefore change a lot.
During the discussion, many questions and comments related to the methodology of POBI survey were presented. It is commented that the evaluation criteria should not change over the years; criteria should not “follow the policy/rules but base on research findings to make recommendations for changing policy/regulations.” Cuong – research team leader had feedback on the issue: there is no common standard on transparency in the world. It differs from country to country, depending on the economic and political situation of each country. In fact, many international standards cannot be applied in Viet Nam. When international standards are applied in Viet Nam, the application will eliminate the localities’ dynamics. Each year, the POBI will be adjusted to gradually raise the level of public transparency.
Sharing about lateness in information publicity of An Giang Department of Finance, representative of this province said that they have sent a the submission to the provincial People’s Committee on information publicity, got a late permission, therefore the information were not shared on time. Regarding to lack of public investment portfolio, representatives said that this is a common difficulty of the provinces, while the portfolio was not provided by the Department of Planning and Investment, it could not be publicized by provincial Department of Finance. In addition, the portfolio only included general date with no detailed figures.
In terms of difficulties of provinces to make their budget documents open and public, Mrs.Tran Thi Mai Phuoc from Faculty of Law of Ho Chi Minh City Open University commented: Both the research team and the Department Finance of the provinces are worth shared about difficulties. Research team has been struggling to find information, because it was “hard to find”; provincial Department of Finance lacked information because they depended on Department of Planning and Investment availability, or in some cases info. was released late by the provincial People’s Publicity. Therefore, she said, there needed the coordination between provincial agencies to make the disclosure sufficient and timely. In addition, the provinces also needed to publicize in a directory for easy access for the people. As when “Research team found it difficult to find information, how common people could ever find it.” Moreover, when the info. was kept in such a hidden directory, the website got few visits, which couldn’t be “goodwill” for publicity.
At the workshop, Mr. Pham Van Long, a member of the research team, presented the plan for POBI 2018 survey implementation. Accordingly, POBI 2018 only added 2 criteria including participation and accountability. Specifically, there will be a review on the contact information on the websites of the provincial Departments of Finance/ People’s Committees and the time duration and feedback manners from relevant agencies when receiving information requests. The POBI 2018 will include a Quarterly and Six Month Budget Performance Report.
In response to the POBI 2018 implementation plan, some participants proposed: (i) In addition to the survey, the team should also evaluate the number of people who used budget related documents in order to measure the level of access to local budgets; (ii) use some of the provisions of the Law on Access to Information when evaluating people’s participation/ access to information.
At the end of the workshop, Mr. Nguyen Quang Thuong, Deputy Director of the Center for Development and Integration summarized discussion issues and noted the comments and suggestions of the participants. Mr. Thuong also expressed his hope that the provinces would better implement budget transparency in the upcoming time, and hope that POBI will become a tool for provinces and cities to measure the level of publicity and transparency in state budget management, promotion of the State Budget Law implementation and create public confidence in state budget management at the provincial level as well.