A seven-minute long video clip titled "Tien ve noi dau?" (Where does money go?) quickly became a hit with young netizens after it was released online early this month.
Its popularity is not surprising considering it uses certain elements that appeal to young people: cartoons, upbeat music interspersed with a popular song, a funny chipmunk voice, and teen slang.
But the clip, which has got nearly 125,000 views on Facebook and 72,000 views on Youtube so far, has nothing to do with Vietnamese pop culture or some hot social issue concerning youths.
It is in fact about a subject one would hardly connect with young people: the government budget.
Starting with a casual and humorous tone, the clip informs that 90 percent of the government’s revenues comes from taxes and fees paid by people, including youngsters who are yet to go to work.
Then the tone becomes serious, even bold, as viewers find themselves being blamed for the constant waste of funds.
"You are neglectful and irresponsible. And, in the end, you have no idea about your rights," the clip says, before calling on viewers to speak out in favor of a proposal that the government should announce public expenses before finalizing them.
Its creator, a group of Hanoians in their early twenties, said the clip is part of their campaign called TODOCABI – an acronym for the Vietnamese phrase "To do cau biet" (I quiz you) – that is sponsored by charity Oxfam Vietnam.
The proposal in the film is among the amendments to the Law on Budget that will come up for approval at the National Assembly next month.
Speaking about the clip, Ech Phu Ho (Building frogs), as the group is known, said on its website, "It is meant to affirm our very own and obvious right -- the right to know how our money is being and will be spent."
Other awareness-raising activities will be conducted via art, like a drawing contest themed on how the world looks when seen with just one eye.
Luu Thi Quyen, a co-founder, said the contest was inspired by the fact that Vietnamese know only half the truth about budget since they are not informed until after expenditure plans are approved.
"Imagine how it's like to watch a porn or 3D film with one of your eyes covered, you will see the problem," Nguyen Dang Khuyen, another co-founder, said.
Once people understand the issue, the group plans to hold a poll to collect opinions on whether or not public expenses should be announced before approval, and submit its findings to the National Assembly, Quyen said.
A series of cartoons depicting why Vietnamese do not care about how the government spends their money. Photos credit: TODOCABI
TODOCABI is meant to help raise public awareness of their rights related to government spending, Nguyen Thu Huong, senior program coordinator at Oxfam Vietnam, said.
It targets social networks where 18-35-year-olds make up a majority of users. In Vietnam, nearly 44 percent of people use the internet.
A survey found that many Vietnamese are not aware that the government’s funds are their money raised through taxes and that they have the right to know and monitor how it is spent, Huong said.
Since the government is "gradually" creating a platform for budget transparency, people's participation would help ensure its spending is reasonable, she said.
For years the government has been criticized for spending on its apparatus rather than development.
An international Open Budget Index in 2012 showed that the Vietnamese government provided the public with scant information on its financial activities.
It scored 19 out of 100, which was well below the average 43 for all 100 countries surveyed. The score was lower than that of most of its Southeast Asian neighbors like Indonesia, the Philippines, and Thailand.
Doubt and belief
Dang Hung Vo, a former deputy minister of environment, called the campaign a good initiative.
"What they have done shows that Vietnamese youths are not what the public think they are -- ignorant and selfish," he said.
However, there were also the usual naysayers.
Some questioned the true intentions behind the campaign, while some others dismissed it as useless, saying it would not make any difference.
Some even warned that they were attracting trouble by talking about such a "sensitive" subject.
But Quyen dismissed the fears: "It should not be a sensitive subject. It's our money, after all."
The senior student at the Hanoi Foreign Trade University said whether or not the campaign should be considered a success depends on whether it meets its ultimate target of making people realize that the government’s money is actually their money, and that they need to do something to prevent it from being wasted.
"The campaign will definitely create a change."