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The steering committee is not a magic wand

Update: August, 26/2013 - 09:58

Professor Phan Xuan Son, from the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics and Public Administration, talked to Khoa hoc va Doi song (Science and Life) newspaper about the creation of anti-budget-loss steering committees at provincial and district levels.

What do you think about the Ministry of Finance's proposal to establish anti-budget-loss steering committees at central cities and provinces?

I have two comments about the ministry's proposal.

Firstly, regarding the organisational and personnel arrangement written in the proposal, the majority of members on the steering committee work on the basis of a part-time job only. People who work full-time are the supporting staff, like secretaries and white-collar workers. This means that the creation of such a committee will mean having to recruit new staff, which adds to the burden of a tight administrative budget nation-wide. Furthermore, the committee must have an office, facilities and equipment to operate.

Secondly, the fight against budget loss, principally speaking is the task of the government assigned to the Ministry of Finance (MOF), particularly the General Department of Taxation's provincial taxation departments in 63 cities and provinces nationwide and their affiliated offices at the district level. So, in my opinion, the creation of the "anti-budget-loss steering committee" and an advisory office to the MOF, will overlap with the tasks of the MOF and all of the other taxation offices.

Although we have, at present, a professional mechanism in place from the central down to the grass roots level, budget loss remains a headache. Should the new steering committee be able to help the problem? If it cannot, it will be like throwing money down the drain.

At the June monthly cabinet meeting, the MOF conceded that the shortage of state budget climbed to VND65,000 billion ($3.1 billion). However, it hopes that if the steering committees are set up, they will help to collect more revenue for the state budget. Do you support the MOF's argument?

The loss in our budget collection is inevitable! I appreciate its efforts to create the steering committees at grass root levels.

However, can these committees solve or help to solve the problem of budget losses in their localities? In my opinion, it's impossible.

In the current situation, all Vietnamese ministries are facing difficulties and challenges. Sometimes they feel that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. Of course there are various factors leading to such a stalemate. However, in my own opinion, the key reason is the slow and less effective process of administrative reform. It's still far from expectation! The weaknesses stem from the administrative mechanism, poor performance by public employees, cumbersome administrative procedures and other factors.

Do you mean that the huge loss in state budget collection is due to poor performance by professional agencies?

I agree. However, budget collection is dictated by the policies of the Party and Government. That means to ensure good budget collection, the MOF and its taxation offices need active support from the central and local governments. Only with good co-ordination between the MOF, taxation offices and government agencies can we achieve the budget collection goal for 2013 set by the National Assembly.

So in your opinion, what are the weak points in the co-ordination between government agencies and the MOF?

Firstly, our institutional system is in the process of reform. Some agencies are doing well while some others are not.

Secondly, in reality we're switching from the centralisation system to a new management system, in accordance to the mandate of a State ruled by law and a market economy. So making mistakes is unavoidable during the process, particularly in management.

If we don't establish the anti-budget-loss steering committees, what should the MOF do to ensure that it will fulfill the task of budget collection?

The first thing the MOF must do is to define who the subjects are that must pay tax. For example, rampant smuggling activities are a root cause of budget loss. Or the case of leasing public real estates with the profits going to some individuals instead of going to the state coffer. In short, we must have strict measures in place and continue to reform the present administrative mechanism, including the administrative procedures and others.

How would you evaluate the role of the steering committees?

The steering committee is an advisor and assistant to their leaders in solving important issues. It is not an administrative agency, yet it helps the leaders have a deeper understanding of problems and issues so that they can come up with more comprehensive and workable solutions.

However, in my opinion, this model is only suitable at the central level. So I don't support the idea of creating a steering committee whenever there is a big problem to be solved. Whatever decision we make, things must be transparent, democratic; and efficient and effective. — VNS


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