by Hong Minh
I have heard many journalists in Viet Nam complain about difficulties they face when they want to interview Government officials.
Among the most obstructive are requests from officials to send a printed official document (cong van) over in advance.
This means journalists have to prepare a formal document stating again why they need to meet the official, and, sometimes provide prime questions in advance. The documents often need to have the signature and official stamp of the writer's office.
When received, they usually go by "snail mail" to a junior official who checks it before it is forwarded on. But this story is not aimed so much at the traditional procedures for interviews, but at the need for written copies in the current hi-tech era.
At present, all Government official documents are processed on computer, where they can be added to, changed or forwarded on at the press of a button.
So why do some officials need printed copies before they start thinking? This is a waste of time, money and human resources.
A recent conference to review the use of email by Government offices was told that all ministries, agencies and other Government departments were now set up to use email, as ordered by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung. All staff members in some offices already have official email addresses.
Despite this, only 30 per cent of documents from State and Government offices are presently being transmitted by email. At provincial levels, the rate is just 20 per cent.
The Government Office in Ha Noi receives "hard copy" (printed) documents three times a day. At any one time, about 600 letters and other mails from Government agencies is being sorted out. The situation is similar in other State and Government offices.
Statistics from the Ministry of Information and Communications show that each day, up to 20,000 hard copy documents are exchanged. In total, it is estimated that about 19 million documents are sent through the mail or by courier every year. Good grief!
The public might also be interested to know that the total fees paid to send and receive those documents is about VND130 billion (US$6.2 million).
In 2007, Prime Minister Dung ordered the application of information technology in all State and Government agencies. This also confirmed the legal status of electronic documents being exchanged among agencies.
Accordingly, it is not necessary to use e-signatures for e-documents sent to State and Government offices if the documents provide full information about the sender and recipient.
No one can blame the infrastructure as the computers are now used by nearly 90 per cent of civil servants.
The national steering committee for information technology also reported that by last year, more than 88 per cent of civil servants were literate in computer use.
Despite all this, the exchange of printed documents among State and Government agencies is still rampant.
The failure of public-service leaders to thoroughly implement the Government's policy on the use of e-documents means that the situation will mostly remain the same.
However, there is some good news. In HCM City and provinces such as Bac Giang, Vinh Long, Dak Nong, An Giang and Phu Tho, local authorities have issued regulations on the use of e-documents and the list of documents eligible for exchange by emails, including official announcements, working schedules, invitations and directives.
Indeed, northern Bac Giang Province is reported to have saved VND10 billion ($476,000) a year by using e-documents instead of printed documents.
This shows that it is time for other cities and provinces to seriously think about how to implement Information Technology to save public time and money.
This would also release journalists, including those working for the Government, from creating unnecessary cong van whenever they want to talk to officials. — VNS