A girl near the Laos border in Quang Tri Province helps her mother pushes a banana loaded cart for others, as part of the mother’s day job. Photo courtesy of Tuoi Tre
Vietnam has reduced poverty on paper, but officials have called for procedural reforms in aid dispersal, job training and new measures to prevent fraud.
Official reports show that the number of poor households has dropped an average of 2.5 percent every year from 2005 to 2012. "Poor households" are defined as earning an average annual per capita income of VND4.8 million (US$228) or less in rural areas and VND6 million in urban areas.
Many stories were brought up at a Wednesday meeting of the National Assembly's Committee on Social Issues to show that poverty alleviation hadn't been effective due to half-hearted assistance and systemic abuse among beneficiaries.
Teaching men to fish?
Nguyen Tan Tuan, a deputy from the central province of Khanh Hoa, said one problem with poverty alleviation policies is they don’t provide the beneficiaries with the know-how to earn more with the aid they receive.
Nearly half of the country's poor households listed belong to ethnic minorities who live in remote areas and have little access to schooling, which makes providing quality training even more crucial, Tuan said.
He said his province has employed an animal husbandry program that provides VND10 million to each poor family.
He visited one that bought two black pigs; one stayed in a pigsty and another ran wild.
“I asked them what the animal ate and if they had been told how to breed the animals, they said they were told nothing, so they gave the pigs whatever they had on hand.
“I thought: the wild one's going to disappear and the domestic one will die.”
The legislators said poverty policies need reform to ensure that each person escapes on their own terms.
Officials said poverty assistance costed the country more than VND864 trillion ($41 billion) between 2005 and 2012, including cheap loans from the Social Policy Bank.
But Nguyen Thi Kim Thuy from Danang said money given without training or poor training does nothing to help.
“Some mountainous communities were trained to fix computers and cameras, that's like teaching someone in the city to fix a spaceship.”
Vice Chairman of the Committee Bui Sy Loi said he knows of a village that's training all 20 aid recipients to repair motorbikes while the village itself has fewer than ten motorbikes.
It’s not just the training that seems odd.
Tuan said one solution to poverty in rural areas is to provide land for agricultural cultivation, but distribution has proven slow while large areas of military land sit idle.
He blamed a lack of focus and cumbersome bureaucratic systems for the waste.
“We’ve built markets to keep cows and cultural houses that sit unused. Those buildings have become a formula, and everyone minds their own business and doesn't talk to each other to [ensure the investments work].”
Loi said poverty assistance should go beyond helping poor families produce something; it must include finding them customers.
Deputy Nguyen Thi Kha who supervises issues in the Central Highlands, said more than 300,000 ethnic minority aid recipients have an inadequate amount or no land to farm.
The land allocated to them is either caught up in usage rights disputes or sits some 30-40 kilometers from their houses, she said.
Danh Ut, vice chairman of the Committee on Ethnic Minority Affairs which has ministerial power, blamed the construction of golf courses, hydropower plants and industrial zones for tribal land losses.
Committee Chairman Giang Seo Phu said the lack of land is an even bigger problem in the central highlands due to frequent natural disasters that leave the locals with nothing.
Phu said many provinces in the area lack enough land to live on, let alone cultivate.
As legislators questioned him about the situation, he passed the buck to provincial leaders, saying they're the ones who receive money for local support, not him.
“The committee does not have land management powers," he said adding that he was never given the power or funds to address such matters.
Deputy Le Van Lai from the central province of Quang Nam said he does’t trust poverty alleviation figures as there are many people who defraud aid distributors.
“I know a family in a mountainous district that bred 20 cows, another had a full herd of pigs, but when it came time to count poor families in the area, they sold everything, deposited the proceeds in the bank and filled out poverty relief applications.
“And as neighbors want to save face, every family describes the other as poor.”
Hoang Van Thuong, a deputy from the northern highlands province of Cao Bang, said there’s one area where people only look forward to the Lunar New Year time because that's when they receive aid from the authorities.
“They've been getting food aid for decades. Some village heads have been threatened with losing their positions if they failed to keep the village "poor.”
Thuong said many places have unwritten rules to conceal new motorbike and television purchases to maintain their poverty designation, preferential policies and aid relief.
“Without solutions, poverty will continue to haunt and persist in this country,” he said.
Nguyen Trong Dam, Vice Minister of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs, said that in some areas households take turns being "poor," so that aids gets distributed to everyone.
The National Assembly is expected to issue a resolution based on the debate.
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