Giles Lever, UK Ambassador to Vietnam

Giles Lever

British Ambassador to Vietnam

Part of UK in Vietnam

28th September 2017 Hanoi, Vietnam

Be slow… to go fast!

Did you know that 28 September is International Right to Know Day? No? Neither did I until one of my colleagues suggested I write a blog. For most civil servants in the UK sharing information with the public is second nature. This is because the UK Parliament passed a Freedom of Information Act in 2000 which guarantees people’s legal right to access information held by public authorities. In 2016 alone public institutions in the UK, at both the central and local level, received over 45,000 requests for information. It’s a huge number which places a considerable burden on the public sector. But the ability to access information is essential to promoting transparent and accountable government. And as the World Bank’s Vietnam 2035 report rightly notes, transparency is the cornerstone of good governance – whether that’s in government, the private sector or elsewhere.

This year for International Right to Know Day I asked Ngo Thu Ha the Deputy Director of CEPEW, one of our local partners, to share her thoughts on the work she has been doing with the British Embassy to promote awareness about Vietnam’s Law on Access to Information and she kindly agreed. So enough from me – over to Ha.

“Why don’t you organise separate training for deaf people?” “Why isn’t there separate training for ethnic minority people?” “Does this training course only target young people?” These were just a few of the questions raised by participants at a training course we organised in Ho Chi Minh City at the beginning of September.

Yes, it’s definitely easier to organise separate training courses for each of these groups. Trainers “go slowly” with deaf people because there are only 4,000 words in sign language. Trainers only go a little bit quicker with ethnic minority people because participants need to translate the discussion into their mother tongue. Meanwhile, young people who are used to smart phones and social media want their trainers to “go fast”. But by coming together we were able to celebrate and respect our shared diversity. Young people began to understand the social obstacles facing deaf people and people with disabilities. And majority groups took time to listen to the views of ethnic minorities.

The title of our training workshop was ‘Practising our right to Information’. Together we learnt about why the right to information is important for people’s daily lives and how it supports community development. We agreed that the right to information is essential for the protection of basic human rights and for promoting government transparency and accountability. We talked about the State’s responsibility to respect the right of its citizens to access information especially vulnerable groups, including deaf people, people with disabilities, and ethnic minority people. And we discussed how to make sure these groups are not discriminated against when accessing information. We also studied the draft Decree guiding the Law on Access to Information and compared it with the 2013 Constitution and the original Law. We identified its strengths and weaknesses and developed recommendations for the Ministry of Justice which we hope will be reflected in the final Decree.

So what next I hear you ask?

Well, “slowly but efficiently” is how we’ll achieve our long term goal of promoting better access to information in Vietnam. Over just three days we saw the outlook of our participants change. They are now more aware of their own rights and their duty to repect the rights and freedoms of others. And we will continue to encourage and motivate them as well as other members of vulnerable groups to promote the right to information in Vietnam.

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About Giles Lever

I’ve been ambassador to Vietnam since July 2014. It’s a great privilege to serve as ambassador anywhere, but I’m particularly delighted to be back working for British interests in a…

I’ve been ambassador to Vietnam since July 2014. It’s a great privilege to serve as ambassador anywhere, but I’m particularly delighted to be back working for British interests in a country and a region I know well.

My very first job in the FCO, in 1991, was in the Southeast Asia Department, and that was followed by a posting to Vietnam from 1993-97 – an exciting time, as the “doi moi” process of economic reform and opening up gathered pace.

East Asia has been a bit of a theme in my career, as I also worked at the British Embassy in Tokyo from 2002-2006 (preceded by two years learning Japanese). But I’ve also been fortunate enough to work on a lot of other interesting regions and issues, including on the Middle East and North Africa, international development, and arms control/security. Immediately before coming back to Hanoi, I was Deputy High Commissioner in Abuja, Nigeria.

Outside of work, when I have time, I like running, reading, exploring, and trying to stay in touch from afar with the fortunes of Bolton Wanderers FC. Many of my Vietnamese friends love Premier League football, and are invariably disappointed to hear that the team I support is not in the Premiership!

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