Vietnam's young leaders climbing atop successful localities

By An Dien, Thanh Nien News

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A view of the Han River Bridge in Da Nang. The central city bounced back to the top of the economic governance rankings in the Vietnam Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) 2013 released last week and is one of the top provinces and cities that have young new leaders close to the top currently being groomed for future positions PHOTO: BAO NGHI
The presence of young leaders in three Vietnamese localities that have notched up impressive economic governance rankings in an annual national survey this year could serve as both a magnet for investors and a litmus test for the leaders themselves, analysts say.
Da Nang bounced back to the top of the economic governance rankings in the Vietnam Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) 2013 released March 20. Kien Giang remained a success story in the Mekong Delta, ranking third on the list. The “only surprise” at the top of the index -- according to PCI researchers -- was Quang Ngai, which ranked 7th.
The annual survey by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the US Agency for International Development rated all 63 provinces and centrally-governed cities in terms of ease of doing business, economic governance, and administrative reform efforts based on the polling of 8,093 domestic non-state companies and 1,609 foreign firms operating here.
Interestingly, all three of the top provinces and cities have young new leaders close to the top currently being groomed for future positions.
In Da Nang, Nguyen Xuan Anh, 38, is set to be installed as the deputy chief of the city’s Communist Party unit. In Kien Giang, Nguyen Thanh Nghi, 38, moved to a similar position this month.
Anh, who studied in Canada, is the son of Nguyen Van Chi, a former head of the Party’s Central Inspection Committee and former chief of the Party unit in Da Nang, while Nghi, a US-trained academic, is the son of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.
The appointments of Anh and Nghi, who are both non-voting members of the powerful 175-member Party Central Committee, took place in the context of Vietnam moving dozens of officials to new positions as part of their grooming for future leadership.
All eyes now would be on the localities where the young leaders are at the helm, analysts say.
“I think we cannot say that Anh and Nghi were responsible for the successful rankings of their provinces as they have recently moved to their posts there,” said a foreign diplomat who declined to be named. 
“I think it is more likely that they were sent there because those provinces are doing fairly well so they will have something good to show for their stint there.
“Nevertheless, I think that their presence there, together with the PCI rankings, will motivate foreign investors to consider locating their businesses there.”
Da Nang had topped the PCI list for three years in a row until 2010 and by 2012 it had plummeted to 12th place. But its bounce back has come as no surprise for many.
“Investment procedures in Da Nang are faster and more transparent than any other locale within Vietnam where we have invested,” said Peter Ryder, chief executive officer of Indochina Capital, which has invested in developing beachfront properties and a downtown high-rise building in the central city.
“The Da Nang leaders are very accessible,” Ryder said. “We never have a problem scheduling meetings with the relevant authorities who are typically dynamic and decisive in their decision making and follow up instructions.”
Elsewhere in Kien Giang, Edmund Malesky, PCI's lead researcher, said the central government’s ambitious plan to grant tourism-haven Phu Quoc Island special administrative region status on the lines of Hong Kong “is playing a role” in the high PCI ranking of the province,
“That said, we survey all the firms in Kien Giang and not just Phu Quoc, so this can be considered more of a general policy change across the entire province,” he said. “Kien Giang did extremely well on three areas that the zone would directly affect: transparency, time costs, and reductions in informal charges.”
Nghi was also appointed as vice mayor of Kien Giang last Friday, chiefly responsible for chalking out the blueprint to develop Phu Quoc.
Meanwhile, Malesky called the success in Quang Ngai “a surprise”.
“Firms praised Quang Ngai for transparent business information, pro-activity of the leadership, and dispute resolution institutions,” he said.
Vo Van Thuong, 44, was installed as the chief of the provincial Party unit in 2011 and analysts say he should be credited with some of the success in Quang Ngai.
A former head of the Central Youth Union, Thuong was invited last year for the Lee Kuan Yew Exchange Fellowship in Singapore. Candidates for the program are selected based on their potential to rise further in their positions and to contribute to the development of their countries. Another foreign diplomat says he finds Thuong to be “very dynamic and forward-looking”.
Analysts say that while not always the case, political leaders who are young and have national aspirations are often more likely to take an entrepreneurial approach to politics.
“In Vietnam, such leaders are more likely to have engaged with international policy debates, while their desire to move up the political ranks provides them natural incentives to distinguish themselves from their peers,” Jonathan London, a Vietnam expert with the City University of Hong Kong, told Vietweek.
Analysts say the major challenge of these leaders is the formal and informal institutional arrangements within the state that limit the efficiency, efficacy, and transparency of government. For some, the challenge also lies in the battle against the deep-seated public grievance against a political apparatus that has been plagued by nepotism and cronyism and not based on meritocracy.
“They will have to go the extra mile to prove themselves, more so than other young leaders who do not have such famous fathers,” said Nguyen Minh Thuyet, an outspoken lawmaker who retired in 2011.
“The public would warmly welcome leaders who exhibit genuine, demonstrated commitments to transparent and responsive government,” Thuyet said.
“But the people also have the right to remain skeptical and they will be watching.”

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