by Hong Minh
The opening speech at a meeting of the Ha Noi People's Council on Monday said one of the city's targets for next year would be to focus on the way public servants, especially leaders, treat citizens.
This sounds great since administrative reforms are meant to benefit everyone. I have witnessed many changes brought by so-called reforms in the last 10 years, but this time, I would like them to be more specific.
Very recently, I had to meet public servants at different levels to retrieve or replace a motorbike number plate that had been stolen. People told me that it would be easy since I had all the ownership papers. But the public servants I met, were not easy to deal with.
For nearly a month, I had to go to various admin agencies only to be told to wait, wait – and wait again. I was not even allowed to submit an official application to get a new one.
Just a few days ago, a public servant at Hai Ba Trung District's police station rejected my documents for the second time. He said that I should return the following Saturday "because he was too busy". This was the second time he had put me off in a bureaucratic, high-pitched voice.
When I shared my story, a 60-year-old neighbour recalled the time he had to pay a fine for a traffic violation. He went to police first to get his conviction papers then to the State Treasury agency to pay the fine, but it had closed.
When the man returned to the State Treasury office next day he was treated rudely by young staff who spoke to him without showing any respect for him as a person – or for his age.
This type of attitude by public servants is not uncommon. Many do not realise that citizens actually pay for them to work – as the term "servant of the people" implies. They ignore the fact that citizens, through Government, pay their wages and salaries.
The slogan of "for the people and because of the people" seems to mean little, even though the message is prominent in most public administrative offices.
I have never seen an official survey on the levels of satisfaction provided to citizens by public servants, but I bet it would be most revealing.
A decision on admin reforms by the Ha Noi People's Committee in May set a target that within three years, 80 per cent of citizens and enterprises should be able to report satisfaction with the services offered by Government agencies and their staff.
I have my doubts. First there must be mechanisms in place to get rid of the contempt many public servants show the people who pay them.
We seem to lack a system of supervision and punishments to bring difficult public servants into line. Citizens, like me and my friend, need a place to complain about the rudeness of many public employees, the harassment and trouble they cause – and their greed.
We also need a mechanism that forces the servants of the people not to use double standards by acting according to their own whims and fancies.
I spent some years in Japan and, on many occasions met public servants, and they were always polite. I learned that public servants in Japan, including deputy ministers, are selected on the basis of public-service examinations.
This helps explain the professional manner in which they carry out their jobs. I was always impressed by their civility and good manners, which helped ease all problems that arose.
In Viet Nam there is much to learn – or to remember. While Japan may be far ahead in many things, Viet Nam also has a tradition of achieving things and its people are widely recognised for their courtesy and politeness.
While we might have to wait a long time for major administrative changes, couldn't we start off by asking public servants to smile, be efficient – and stop giving us what is known in the West as "the old run-around"! — VNS