by Khanh Van
Last week at a Government press briefing, Health Minister Nguyen Thi Kim Tien refused to back down when the media questioned her response to the rising numbers of deaths from measles. They even pressed for her resignation, but she declined.
Her response stirred public concern about Vietnamese high-ranking officials' responsibilities and the need for them to resign if they failed to fulfill their tasks to serve the public.
At least 135 children have already died from the viral disease throughout Viet Nam and thousands of people, mostly children and infants, have been infected.
However, Tien blamed the poor vaccination rate, the overcrowding in Ha Noi hospitals and the cold and humid weather for the unusually high rate of infections, not the health ministry's poor guidance. She insisted that the ministry had provided plenty of guidance and information relating to the disease, even though it was not effective enough.
She said she would take responsibility to some extent as the leader of the health sector, but she would have not think about resigning "at this moment" because she needed to work hard to promote vaccination and limit deaths from the disease.
The minister took position in August 2011, but since then has seen many scandals involving the health sector, including 15 infant deaths after having Quinvaxem vaccination in 2012 or the copying of about 1,200 blood test results at a suburban hospital in Ha Noi and sending them to a separate group of about 1,000 patients.
But it's not only the health-care sector that is in the spotlight. Other sectors have also caused much public concern. However, again, none of their leaders offered to resign.
My research on the Internet shows that only one high-ranking Government official has resigned during the past 15 years in Viet Nam. That person was the former Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Le Huy Ngo. He resigned in 2004.
However, he stepped down not because of losing public confidence, but because his lose management led to the corruption of a ministry official. His resignation shocked the nation where the culture of resignation is almost non existent.
However, in other countries, it is normal practice for high-ranking leaders to resign if they are seen to be incompetent or are involved in slack or dubious practices. Late last month, South Korean Prime Minister Chung Hong-won decided to resign over the Government's handling of the ferry sinking on April 16 that left more than 300 high-school students dead or missing.
The PM not only apologised, but offered his resignation and said he took "all responsibility" for the tragedy.
In 2010, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama decided to leave his position over his broken campaign promise to move a United States Marine Base.
In 2009, Egyptian Transport Minister Mohammed Mansour decided to resign over a train crash that killed 18 people and injured more than 30 others. He said he quit because he felt politically responsible for the accident.
But resignation does not seem to be the chosen path in Viet Nam. Maybe this is because officials are afraid of losing face or economic benefits.
More importantly, the personal responsibility of leaders has not been clearly defined in many state organisations. Many of them think that they can hold their positions until the end of their term unless they do something really wrong. And they also feel that resignation is a matter for their organisations, not themselves.
However, if the examples set in other countries in the Asian region are looked at closely it will be found that most Government officials are respected and admired by the public for stepping down.
Vice Chairman of the National Assembly's Committee for Culture, Education and Children Le Nhu Tien was quoted by Nguoi Lao Dong (The Labourer) newspaper saying that an official with low capacity and low public confidence should resign.
In a move to promote the culture of resignation, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has told the Ministry of Home Affairs to compile a decree regulating situations where Government officials should resign.
But this is not the first time such a regulation has been made. As the country is noted for being unable to enforce many of its own regulations and laws, I suspect the decree will come to much. The most important thing is that the officials themselves be told that they should offer to resign if their management skills are lacking.
The offer of resignation may not easy, but it can help pave the way for others with higher capacity to serve the public and the country. It should be the normal standard of conduct for all public officials. — VNS