Editor’s note: Associate Professor Vu Minh Khuong, lecturer of the National University of Singapore, recently wrote to a forum launched by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper to pool its readers’ suggestions on how to make Ho Chi Minh City a place worthy of living in.
The gap between potential and achievements in Ho Chi Minh City is widening in a time when speedy changes are spurred by global integration and improving technology.
But for profound changes in terms of awareness, institutions and actions, Ho Chi Minh City would not only fall far short of its potential and expectation in the decades to come but also risk being the country’s first city to get caught in an average income trap.
I wish Ho Chi Minh City would live up to its name, after late Vietnamese President Ho Chi Minh, and would set a shining example to other cities so that Vietnamese people, irrespective of where they are from, are all proud of and acutely aware of their contributions to the construction of their nation.
The ASIAN model
Amidst yesteryear’s national mentality of subsidization and mental inertness, the municipal administration boldly took the initiative and “untied” themselves, which has brought about remarkable accomplishments to the city itself and the entire country.
Today, as the management mechanism has become more effective and the national and provincial leaders have been more receptive to changes, “untying” oneself is no longer a breakthrough and can even decelerate the country’s progress.
With Vietnam’s current deep integration into the regional and global economy, opportunities and challenges regarding the acceleration of development are immense. Ho Chi Minh City is thus supposed to spearhead a countrywide drive in constructing the nation and keeping it on a par with global standards.
The “untying” of oneself from yesteryear should be continued with a will to learn and revive noble values like humanitarianism and democracy. Based on the incredible success stories of other Asian countries, reform efforts at municipal and national levels can be summarized on five strategic levels of the ASIAN model:
A (Aim) means setting high goals. The goal must be a fusion of national aspirations, worries about lagging behind others and a sense of responsibility toward the future.
While setting goals, Ho Chi Minh City needs to determine its wealth gap with major Asian cities, particularly Singapore, so that it can learn from their lessons and work out its own course to keep pace with them.
S (Strategy) means strategies devised to help the country keep up with its neighbors. It’s advisable that those coming up with these strategies should bear in mind opportunities and challenges on a global scale so as to best harness the city’s current inner power.
While formulating strategies, close attention should be paid to the capacity to create values from these two channels: efficiency and validity.
I (Implementation) is the effort to work toward goals, which requires effective coordination among municipal agencies. The coordination should be undertaken by a designated agency and managed by the city administration.
That agency should boast the city’s best staffers who should make full use of information technology so as to bring about optimum efficiency and validity to all policies and initiatives.
A (Acquisition of knowledge) stands for efforts to acquire knowledge and enlighten oneself. These efforts are to be made based on learning from the success stories achieved by other countries and cities as well as summarizing the city’s experiences, trials and errors.
N (Nurturing of human capital) is short for nourishing human resources. This effort focuses on investment in education; tapping into staff’s capacity of researching as well as their creativity; unearthing, drawing and using talents; and creating suitable conditions to cherish people’s lifelong education goals.
Associate Professor Vu Minh Khuong, lecturer of the National University of Singapore. Photo: Tuoi Tre
1. Working on the vision of the Ho Chi Minh City administration until 2045 when Vietnam celebrates its 100th anniversary of independence.
Culling opinions and propositions from experts, businesses and residents in devising strategies for the coming decade, 2015 - 2025. This decade is of crucial significance to the city’s growth prospects.
Regarding this effort, the city administration is advised to draw on Singapore’s experience in organizing annual conferences which address the island nation’s vision, reform and growth.
Such conferences should gather leaders and pundits across the country to discuss new content that the city administration needs to grasp in order to join the country’s program of reform and growth.
Regarding all these efforts, which are supported by international experts, the city administration should reach a consensus with the central government in terms of: (i) the strategic importance held by large cities in spurring paradigm shifts and boosting the country’s competitive edge, explained by why investment in Ho Chi Minh City is synonymous with investing in the entire country; (ii) assessing staffers on their work performance; and (iii) piloting policies designed to get over an average income trap on the city.
It’s also crucial that policies which expose the city to the risk of an average income trap be shelved, as what happens in the city today will materialize in other cities in the future.
2. Launching a website which pools opinions from residents and entrepreneurs regarding all socio-economic matters, such as sound contributions and justified complaints from residents or business owners, for example when sewers or construction sites have no lid or lack protective fences.
This website will also gauge residents’ and businesses’ confidence in competent agencies’ performance and implementation of state policies on a regular basis.
3. Immediately embarking on a course of building a smart city. Ho Chi Minh City should take the lead in setting up an e-government, promoting the use of information technology in all areas, and establishing centers which measure consumers’ satisfaction with such services as electricity and accommodation on a constant basis.
Accelerating population, decelerating growth
Ho Chi Minh City is now prone to being the country’s first location to stumble into an average income trap, which sees a country or a city losing its growth derived from a cheap, abundant workforce.
In such a situation, workers’ demands for pay raises will not be met due to virtually insurmountable limitations and barriers which face businesses in their efforts to boost their work efficiency.
On a city scale, noticeable limitations and hurdles include inadequate infrastructure (traffic congestion, low living conditions); policies that fail to motivate creativity (which means speculation and shoddy production are more lucrative than proper investment and doing righteous business); and overlooking investment in human resources, which undermines its instrumental role in the city’s growth.
These have resulted in the city’s slowing growth while its population is swelling. Statistics provided by the General Statistics Office of Vietnam in the 2005-2013 period revealed that the city’s contributing proportion to the national economy plummeted from 24.3 percent to 17 percent in industrial production, and dropped from 28 percent to 25 percent in trade and services, in contrast to a population increase to 8.7 percent from 7.6 percent.
This is a part of a series on ideas to make Ho Chi Minh City a better place to live in.