Viet Nam News
Bùi Thị An, Associate Professor and a former deputy to the 13th National Assembly, speaks to Kinh tế & Đô thị (Economic and Urban Affairs) newspaper about the draft proposal on the re-organisation of city/provincial departments across the country.
Do you have any comments on the Ministry of Home Affairs’ proposal to merge some departments in a province/city into one big department?
I think the proposal is a major breakthrough in the plan to cut down on public employees and streamline the government’s apparatus. The proposal should have been made many years ago.
The merger has quite a few advantages. For example, we can save a lot of office space and focal points. As we all know, the fewer focal points, the more efficient work performance will be. In addition, the number of government officials and officers working in these departments will be cut. So we will save the money from their salaries for the State budget.
However, to turn this proposal into life, there are many challenges. The most pressing one is that in our current administrative system, most government officers are assigned to do certain tasks which relate to a single area. Now, if they are asked to undertake new roles, they will have to change their old habits and acquire new knowledge and skills.
The other challenge relates to the psychology of department general directors and directors of a sub department. Their workload will be heavier and they will have to learn new skills. For these leaders, their job description following the merger will be more demanding. According to the proposal each department will have one director general and three deputies.
We all know it takes time for people to adjust to change. But I’m confident that everything will be fine in the end, if good policies are adopted, particularly policies for rewarding people with high performance and sanctioning for those who fail to perform their jobs. This is important in encouraging people to achieve high work performance.
Many people have expressed worries about conflicts of interest many government officials and officers will face when the merger takes place. How can this issue be solved?
In my opinion, the hardest issue is how to deal with redundant staff, particularly with redundant bosses. But I’m confident that all law abiding government officials see themselves as the people’s servants. They must do any work assigned to them to their best ability. What I want to emphasise is that these senior government officials should be treated well and be placed in positions suitable to their ability.
A very difficult issue will arise following the merger, for example between the Department of Finance and the Department of Planning and Investment, whoever becomes the director general will become a very powerful person. Are there any rules in place to avoid abuses of power?
Yes, I can’t agree more. When the merger is done, the top boss becomes very powerful. But in my opinion, the hardest issue is how to change the old thinking. First of all, we must choose the right people for the right position. Of course, the big boss must be competent and suitable for the position they are assigned to. In addition, there must be a good monitoring and inspecting system to control their power to make sure that they exercises their rights in accordance to the law. In other words, transparency and accountability must be upheld in all department activities and implemented by all employees in the department.
Are you confident that the two key objectives of downsizing the staff and avoiding overlaps in management will be achieved?
Sure! I’m confident that after the merger, each department will have only one director general and three deputies (except Ha Noi and Ho Chi Minh City).
In my opinion, the government should make a public announcement on the recruitment of these positions. I’m sure through competition we’ll be able select the best candidates for these positions.
For Hà Nội and HCM City, do we need a special mechanism to select the director general and deputies?
Yes! The population of other provinces is just between 0.8-1 million people while Hà Nội has 9 million and HCM City is even more. That’s why these two cities should be given special treatment. However, what I mean by special treatment is an increase in supporting staff, not leaders.
I’m confident that if the right people are selected for the four key positions – one director general and three deputies, they can do their jobs well.
In addition to that, in my opinion, for Hà Nội, a department director general should be given power to do his/her daily job and to have more supporting staff than those at provincial levels. But the most important right now is to have good mechanisms in recruiting the staff – people with good work ethic and competency, particularly young candidates. — VNS