Eight civil works packages under national competitive bidding were procured successfully using Viet Nam's e-procurement system. All the e-procured packages achieved high efficiency with an average of 50 days end-to-end procurement time. However, there were only one or two bids per package. This may be because of the new procurement procedure but may also reflect small contract values (less than $1 million per contract).
All the works contracts under this project were supervised by consulting engineers appointed to ensure that detailed engineering designs were followed, and contractors’ claims were legitimate. However, the supervision of some subprojects was insufficient to ensure timely completion and handover of fully operational, quality works. Of note were (i) a nonfunctioning pressurized piped irrigation system in Cu M’Gar, Dak Lak; and (ii) a poorly constructed irrigation system in Ea Soup, Dak Lak.
During the completion review field visits, it was observed that irrigation facilities are better maintained than low-volume rural roads. This is because budget allocations to irrigation management companies provide for a minimum level of service and people are engaged on a part-time basis to maintain canals and keep gates in operating condition. In the case of low volume rural roads, not only are commune funds more limited than provincial sources, the institutional structure to maintain alignments is also inadequate. As a result, commune people’s committees often engage voluntary groups (youth or women’s associations) to carry out basic maintenance and vegetation control at a scale that requires mechanical intervention. Without a formal organization and institutional arrangement to do the job, the maintenance of rural roads is often left undone or done too late.
With the tremendous pressure on Viet Nam’s provincial administrations to achieve economic development, investments have tended to prioritize the expansion of PRI with designs that are often based on outdated standards and cost norms. Irrigation and road designs thus typically result in lower capacity with structural weaknesses, consequently requiring repair and/or upgrade shortly after commissioning. For example, significant periodic maintenance was required for the subprojects in Buon Tria–Buon Triet communes of Lak district within just 2 years after commissioning. However, due to the limited revenue generation capacity of provincial governments, it is not always possible to meet the operation and maintenance (O&M) costs of the project assets. Given this, it is of great importance that PRI design standards adequately address current risk factors, particularly under expected climate change scenarios and the changing land-use patterns.
For this project, such risks include weak and overlapping management of the vocational and technical education (VTE) system, detachment of training from industry needs, and poor social image of VTE. A streamlined system that is closely linked with the market will help ensure smooth school-to-work transition for students, which could then improve the perception of vocational training. Furthermore, the project should have focused on strengthening the administrative and management capacity of the executing agency and project implementation unit to avoid unnecessary delays.
The labor market information system was the first attempt of the vocational and technical education system to trace students after graduation and collect systematic information on enterprise demand. However, its complexity made the system costly and unsustainable. A more integrated and less complex system would be useful so that schools can have the resources and capacity to collect information. Schools should also be given incentives to carry out these types of survey.
Enterprises are a key beneficiary of skilled labor and hence have direct interest in skills training. Yet, they are often skeptical of the quality of training provided by public vocational and technical education institutions because of the disconnection between the two. Without good relations with employers, schools will find it difficult to provide students with job information or align their training to employers’ needs. Some employers are actually keen on providing their own training to ensure that the skills are relevant. Although firm-specific training may not replace general skill training, schools can collaborate with enterprises to organize in-house training or recruit their employees to be the trainers for some specific skills and modules. This can benefit both the schools and the enterprises, as teachers and students are updated with new technologies, and enterprises can partner with a school to certify and upgrade skills for their workers. Together with technical training, schools should also pay attention to enhancing students’ work ethics, knowledge about their rights and responsibilities, and labor laws, as such "soft" skills are valued by employers and beneficial for the students. Furthermore, linking schooling with work-based programs through apprenticeship has the potential to help students practice their learning and obtain practical problem-solving skills. Because apprenticeships often lead to employment, they can also motivate young people to stay in school and complete their education. Apprenticeship has proven particularly successful in some contexts. In Viet Nam, schools find apprenticeship to be very important for students to find jobs after graduation (Cooking and Hotel Business Vocational Secondary School). The German dual system, which combines structured training within a company and parttime classroom, has become a model for many countries. In France, going through an apprenticeship increases the likelihood of being employed 3 years after completion.
Governments in over 100 countries are designing, implementing, or considering national qualification frameworks or are involved with regional qualifications frameworks. The idea is that all qualifications can (and should) be expressed in terms of outcomes. Students can be tested based on their competency and certified accordingly, regardless of their learning pathways. This will help assure employers of the skills of their workers. At the same time, it will allow workers to move across sectors, as well as to other countries if the national qualification framework is aligned with regional and international frameworks. Workers can also move in and out of education to leverage on the knowledge they gain in the workplace.
The operation and maintenance of agricultural infrastructure built through projects needs to be sustainable. Routine O&M costs have been reduced by the project’s concrete lining of the canals. In addition, the choice of this technology reduces water losses from canals and thus enhances irrigation efficiency and the reliability of water delivery. Where flooding is a predictable annual event, as in the Quang Binh subproject, concreting the top of the dykes and covering it with gravel may prevent damage. Concrete lining should be promoted, given that older parts of the existing irrigation infrastructure would have deteriorated without the lining done under the project. Piloting other technologies, such as buried pipe irrigation and closed concrete canals, should be explored as such systems are cost-effective in terms of O&M and more resilient to extreme weather events, leading to lower maintenance cost in the long term. The extraordinary damage caused by typhoons and consequent flooding requires further research with different technologies, especially given the emerging risks of climate change.
The government should take effective financing measures for O&M and repairs to support IMCs and the cooperatives, especially through the provincial people’s committees. Mechanisms to ensure that IMCs and WUGs receive funds at the right time for repairs are needed. At a minimum, WUGs and cooperatives must work closely with the IMCs to ensure timely and effective O&M. The newly established Disaster Management Authority within MARD should play a role in this.
Close monitoring of the condition of the infrastructure is needed and cost recovery measures should be instituted for O&M of: (i) tertiary systems managed by cooperatives, and (ii) primary and secondary systems managed by IMCs and IMEs. The findings of the monitoring exercises should be regularly shared with the central and provincial governments to help MARD and the DARDs prepare budgets and mobilize resources.
Although their autonomy was short-lived, WUGs functioned well using hydraulic boundaries. Project WUGs had their own bank accounts and stamp and the right to sign contracts. They received training in irrigation planning and management and financial management. Empowered water users became fully committed to the infrastructure that was crucial to their agriculture livelihood. It was acknowledged by the IMCs, the cooperatives, and even by DARDs that some WUGs constructed tertiary irrigation canals more quickly and/or at lower cost than PPMUs. Since cooperatives have absorbed the role of WUGs, they should capitalize on the WUGs’ enhanced capacity to boost PIM. Maximizing the use of the irrigation management knowledge embedded in the WUGs and cooperatives would improve tertiary system management. If cooperatives work closely with the IMCs and IMEs, this would also help define O&M needs and systems.
The project introduced a project performance monitoring system that made use of GIS and was supposed to be applied by the PPMUs. However, since benefits started to materialize only upon completion of the project, the government was more interested in construction monitoring. After the project, no funds were available for the continued use of the project performance monitoring system and it has been abandoned. During the project, the ADB resident mission and MARD’s central project office introduced a detailed project implementation planning system, which made a substantial contribution to limiting the delay in project completion to 7 months, avoiding the need for a formal extension of the project. This practical tool should be used in other projects whenever feasible.