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When and where needed

Released at: 02:46, 17/06/2014

When and where needed

Mr Mori Mutsuya, Chief Representative of JICA Vietnam, shared his thoughts with VET's Hai Bang about the visit by State President Truong Tan Sang to Japan and the future of Vietnam-Japan relations.

by Hai Bang

What comments would you care to make regarding the first ever official visit by State President Truong Tan Sang to Japan last month?

Mr Mori Mutsuya, Chief Representative of JICA Vietnam

State President Sang paid an official visit to Japan from March 16 to 19 and his first stop upon arrival was in Ibaraki prefecture, a locality well-known for its advanced agricultural technologies. The President visited Ibaraki’s Agriculture Research Centre, Agricultural Machinery Centre, and the Asahi Fresh Vegetable Processing Factory, to gain first-hand experience in Japanese models of applying high-technology in agricultural production to optimise yields. During his visit to Ibaraki prefecture he stressed that the most important aim of his visit was to further develop Vietnam-Japan ties towards more comprehensive and effective cooperation, particularly in the field of agriculture, because almost 70 per cent of Vietnam’s population live on agricultural production, and agricultural and rural development is among Vietnam’s priorities in its development strategy.

On the afternoon of March 16 the President also witnessed the signing of a cooperation agreement between Vietnam’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development and Ibaraki prefecture. The development priorities in agriculture set by the Vietnamese Government are no different to the Japanese Government’s assistance policy for Vietnam. We also identified one of three priority areas as “coping with vulnerabilities”. The development of rural areas is essential for Vietnam’s sustainable development. If you don’t develop rural areas how can you narrow the gap between rural and urban areas and alleviate poverty?

Since Japan restarted its ODA operations in Vietnam in 1992, JICA has continuously supported agricultural and rural development in Vietnam with increasing funds. Our assistance in this field includes technical cooperation, grant aid, agricultural techniques training, and improvements in the functions of agricultural cooperatives. We also offer assistance in the sustainable development of local resources, including tourism and disaster management. We put ODA funds into building rural road networks and irrigation systems.

Japan is also implementing technical cooperation to assist the building of and improving the mechanism for supervising food production chains in order to ensure food safety. Japan also proposed the application of “Basic GAP”, a quality standard system to ensure safe agricultural produce, which is simpler and easier to apply even by farmer households with small-scale production compared to the existing VietGAP.

This kind of cooperation is aimed not only at ensuring food safety for Vietnamese people but also to raise the international competitiveness of Vietnamese agriculture. Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung also requested Japanese assistance in agriculture during the Japan-ASEAN Summit in Tokyo last December. Japan will further its assistance to Vietnam in this field in the future.

What do you see for the future of Vietnam-Japan relations?

Based on the history of the two countries’ fruitful cooperation, I am confident that Vietnam-Japan friendship will be developed further by the younger generation, who are in their teenage years or early 20s now. Since Japan restarted its ODA to Vietnam in 1992 it has been offering its assistance in infrastructure construction, human resources development, agricultural and rural development, improvements to the urban environment, and healthcare, among others, in a synchronous and comprehensive manner, combining diversified assistance methods. We pledge to support Vietnam towards sustainable development with this assistance.

In order to cooperate with Vietnam to build a society in the future in which people can live at ease and the younger generation will have opportunities, Japan, as Vietnam’s largest strategic partner, will further its assistance and maintain a close relationship with the Vietnamese Government.

How would you comment on ODA from Japan to Vietnam so far? What are the reasons making Japan the largest bilateral ODA donor to Vietnam?

Since 1992, when Japan restarted its ODA to Vietnam, it has been among the largest developing partners of Vietnam. As you can see, although Japan has faced many difficulties due to the tsunami disaster in March 2011, the Japanese Government has maintained its ODA funding to Vietnam and furthered its cooperation with the country.

The prominent feature of Japan’s ODA to Vietnam is the combination of technical cooperation and financial assistance. By the end of 2012, total Japanese ODA loans to Vietnam reached roughly 2,000 billion Yen ($19.3 billion), plus around 200 billion Yen ($1.93 billion) in fiscal year 2013 alone. During this 20-year period Japan also provided Vietnam with 84 billion Yen ($828.6 million) in grant aid, sent 7,000 Japanese experts and 590 JICA volunteers to the country, and helped train 21,000 Vietnamese students and trainees in Japan. These, together, make Japan the No 1 donor country to Vietnam, showing that Vietnam is an important partner for Japan.

Japanese ODA to Vietnam has been used effectively, contributing significantly to the country’s development and helping to improve the bilateral relationship with mutual benefits. Many Japanese companies have been involved in ODA projects, conducted technology and expertise transfers to Vietnam, built and equipped infrastructure, and improved the investment environment, contributing to promoting Japanese investment in Vietnam. So it works both ways!

Have the Vietnamese partners done a good job as beneficiaries of Japanese ODA?

I think that Vietnam is using Japanese ODA effectively in its socio-economic development. In return, Vietnam’s development has contributed to the development and stability of the region, including Japan.

In the ODA programmes with the aim of poverty alleviation through economic growth, Vietnam can be a good success model for other developing countries and regions to follow.

Despite many difficulties arising during the implementation of ODA programmes in Vietnam, Japanese ODA operations have achieved great results as bilateral relations have been built on mutual trust and towards the mutual aim of Vietnam’s socio-economic development. However, we expect our Vietnamese partners to make further efforts to raise the effectiveness of Japanese ODA projects, which is very important.

In the future we expect detailed discussions with the Vietnamese Government on their requests for assistance to see what we can do to meet such requests and provide effective assistance in necessary fields. In fact, a number of ODA projects have been delayed due to problems in site clearance and the legal framework. To clearly identify the problems, both the Japanese and Vietnamese sides have to get into detailed discussions. We are willing to cooperate and discuss and can support the Vietnamese side in the formation of the legal framework in a way to best benefit ongoing projects.

From a broader perspective, not only in Vietnam but also anywhere in the world, it is essential to clarify rights and responsibilities. For Vietnam it is even needed much more. If rights and responsibilities are unclear it will take much more time to complete works.

In order to improve effectiveness in implementing ODA projects in Vietnam it is important to have clear regulations on rights and responsibilities, based on which we can shorten the decision-making process. I think this is key to resolving problems.

What should Vietnam do to better disburse ODA from Japan?

Disbursement performance depends on the progress of each single step in the entire project cycle, from project preparation to procurement and contract execution. The cause of delays can vary from project to project but, as mentioned above, the root of many problem is seen to be in the unclear demarcation of the rights and responsibilities of stakeholders to streamline the decision making process. Projects are facing severe delays, causing huge cost increases, which make some projects no longer economically feasible, but no one seems to care about this and no one bears responsibility. 

After more than 20 years of receiving ODA it is safe to say that Vietnam in an experiential ODA recipient. Thus, this issue can be seen in the institutional framework, which takes additional time to improve. Meanwhile, as the agency managing the large ODA portfolio, I think that the immediate action Vietnam can take is to focus on strengthening overall regulations and supervision of Project Management Units (PMUs), which play a key role in project implementation. Regardless of the arrangement, whether it is an in-house or outsourced PMU, as the agency which directly manages the project implementation the PMU should have sufficient capacity and its performance should be regularly evaluated so that only capable PMUs are eligible to continue performing the work and be assigned new projects.

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