Sitting "in the sky,' officials pass unreal laws

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If you are a participant at an "excellent teacher" contest in Ninh Thuan Province, you will be supplied with barely a mouthful of water a day.

Ridiculous as it sounds, the quantity is based on a provincial regulation that allocates an expenditure of VND300 a day on drinking water per person at provincial level contests and conferences.

The regulation, issued by the Department of Education and Training and Finance Department in 2002, contains several such bizarre provisions, and is a valid legal document till today without any modification.

The regulation in Ninh Thuan is among many legal documents of both local and central governmental agencies that have not been changed long after they have become outdated.

Several regulations have never been implemented either because they were seen as impractical from the beginning or because the authorities lacked enforcement forces.

Luong Van Lan, principal of Chu Van An High School in Ninh Thuan's Phan Rang Thap Cham Town said the minimum monthly salary was VND210,000 in 2002 when the document was issued. This has increased five times since then, he said.

In November 2011, Ninh Thuan Department of Education and Training proposed that the provincial administration increase the thresholds mentioned in the regulation and the proposal was forwarded to the provincial Finance Department for advice.

However, the finance department said the current regulations have to be maintained because there was no further instruction from the Ministry of Finance on increasing the thresholds.

At the national level, legal documents that have not been carried out in reality include regulations on street food and on home distilling of rice wine.

A decree taking effect January 1, 2013 bans unregistered home distilling of rice wine but this is such a long-standing tradition in the country that it would be very difficult, if not impossible to enforce.

According to the decree, all individuals and organizations producing homemade alcoholic beverages must register with local authorities whether they are retailers or sell their product to wine producers. Retailers should have a registered label on their products.

A circular issued by the Ministry of Health that took effect on January 20 stipulates that all food vendors should undergo training in food safety and be certified as being in good health by hospitals. It also says that all food should be served using gloves and all ingredients used in making food to have valid documentation of origin like purchase invoices.

However, most street food vendors are not aware of the circular and its provisions. Typically they buy ingredients at local markets that never issue an invoice.

Apart from being outdated or impractical, many regulations have not been enforced because of a lack of enforcement personnel and an unwillingness to comply.

These include a ban against smoking in public places, a ban against using cell phones at gas stations and a regulation requiring dog and cat owners to register their pets at local governmental agencies, all taking effect in 2012.

Another document that attracted wide criticism is one that requires motorists to prove ownership of the vehicle or provide evidence that they have borrowed the vehicle from someone. Since it has been normal practice for decades to buy a vehicle without registering a change in ownership, many people have motorbikes whose documents are in the original owners' names even after ownership has changed several times. 

Yet another regulation that bans glass windows on civil servants' coffins has been slammed as an unwarranted intrusion into wishes of the deceased's families.

"˜Sitting in the sky'

In a recent interview with the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, Ngo Van Minh of the National Assembly's Law Committee said proper procedures have not been followed in issuing these "problematic" legal documents.

"I consider the people who make such unrealistic legal documents as sitting in the sky while making policies," he said.

Minh said a central government document has to be discussed by relevant agencies, the public and approved by the Ministry of Justice before it is issued.

"People can only accept regulations that are practical and in line with social development," he said.

He said many people did not follow some regulations because those who drafted the law as well as those who assessed the documents were incompetent and bureaucratic.

"For example, some central government agencies always claim that they take residents' opinions before issuing a document. In reality, all they do is to publish a draft on their website," he said.

"Small traders and those who distill rice wine at home do not have computers and Internet connections to be aware of the documents and provide feedback [on relevant documents]," he said.

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