Disappointed donors see Vietnam slowing reforms
HAI PHONG - International donors
expressed discontent with Vietnam
on Tuesday, despite pledges from
the communist-ruled country to
further economic and political
``We are disappointed,'' said one
western ambassador during a break
in a mid-year meeting between the
Hanoi government and its foreign
backers. ``There was a reaffirmation
that the state sector would keep a
dominant role in the economy.''
Donors and foreign investors have in
recent years become increasingly
critical of Hanoi's perceived
backsliding on promised reforms,
including the promotion of the
country's small but hamstrung private
The meeting, held in Hai Phong, 105
km (62 miles) east of Hanoi, heard
calls for quick action to arrest the
country's economic slide.
``There's so much sympathy (for
Vietnam) among the heads of
delegations but the statements today
seemed like a throwback in time,''
added the ambassador.
After a decade of stellar growth, the
country's economic prospects have
dimmed since 1997 as growth slows
and other key indicators stall or turn
The meeting gathered Vietnam and
the World Bank Consultative Group
(CG) of bilateral and multilateral
donors in a mid-year review of
reform and official development
Andrew Steer, director in Vietnam
for the World Bank, said Hanoi had
marked impressive progress since it
launched tentative reforms in the late
1980s, but those gains could
possibly be reversed.
``Last year we met at a time when
we were very concerned,'' said
Steer. ``Today the situation is more
serious than it was last year.''
One participant in the meeting said
many donor calls for concrete reform
in key areas were rejected.
``The Vietnamese totally rebuffed
any approaches...on most sensitive
issues,'' he said.
Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen
Manh Cam, who is also foreign
minister and sits on the Communist
Party's elite Politburo, told donors
reform was needed to support
He said efforts were being made to
overcome problems arising from low
efficiency and poor competitiveness,
the Asian financial crisis, natural
calamities and persistent management
and administrative weaknesses, but
gave few details.
Donors remained critical. ``There is
no willingness to engage in a full
dialogue,'' said one participant.
Since 1993, Hanoi has been pledged
some $13.1 billion in development
aid -- of which around $5 billion has
been disbursed -- but donors say
stalling reforms and other political
problems may force conditionality on
Planning and Investment Minister
Tran Xuan Gia told donors that
Hanoi was attempting to address 17
issues that the CG had devised, but
that problems -- internal and external
Participants in the meeting said no
new pledges of aid would be made,
but that recommendations on
implementation and long-term
development assistance would be
devised for further consideration at
the next full annual donors' meeting
due in December.
REUTERS - June 15, 1999