|It is not the first time that serious questions have been raised about the quality of public servants. — Photo dantri
by Hong Minh
We are used to raising our eyebrows quizzically whenever a rosy report is put out by some Government agency or the other, but we also understand that a bloated bureaucracy is not likely to be very self-critical.
But a recent report that more than 99 per cent of public servants fulfill their responsibilities was jaw-dropping stuff.
Luckily, the top leadership has moved quickly to debunk such claims.
In a Tuesday conference with the Ministry of Home Affairs, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung asked for a more realistic evaluation, saying the report had failed to convince the people.
The ministry had reported that last year, only 0.46 per cent of nearly 300,000 public servants had failed to fulfill their responsibilities. The remaining staff had completed their jobs with excellent, good or fair grades, the report said.
The PM stressed that it was a good thing if the report was true, but, "obviously, the people are not satisfied and do not believe in the number."
It is not the first time that serious questions have been raised about the quality of public servants.
At the National Assembly (NA) session last month, several deputies said that people nationwide were concerned about public servants who do nothing.
Asserting that many public servants were just wiling away their time the whole day, Deputy Nguyen Ba Thuyen called for a nationwide assessment of how many staff a public office needed. He said conditions have to be set for firing such redundant staff.
"How can we solve the problem if we are unable to fire them," he asked.
In response to Thuyen's question, Home Affairs Minister Nguyen Thai Binh had cited the same report, saying up to 99.54 per cent of public servants were doing their jobs well.
There is obviously a big gap in the way the ministry and the people see the work of public servants.
I am among the members of the skeptical public that the Prime Minister has mentioned. My skepticism is based on my own observations and that of relatives, friends and colleagues.
But we can recall that early last year, even Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc had alluded to reports that up to 30 per cent of staff in administrative offices were ineffective so that even when they are off work, everything goes well.
He said then that the problem persisted because of weaknesses in the recruitment of public servants.
Earlier this year, we heard that hundreds of candidates queued up for a seat in the recruitment exam for the Ha Noi Tax Department. We also heard that 299 candidates sat for one of 10 positions at the Ministry of Industry and Trade. Then there was the story of 4,000 people competing for a slot in one of 458 positions advertised for administrative offices in Ha Noi.
In a populous country, there will always be many applicants for a job, but the "desperation" or "keenness" shown for the relatively meagre wages of a public servant has also been a topic of debate.
There is a widespread belief that if one becomes a public servant, she/he will be able to earn other loaves and fishes coming from job-related connections. Then there is the promise of a permanent position without too much stress or hard work, sweetened further by promotion opportunities.
If this is the popular image of public servants in the country, the need for changing it with some hard-nosed confidence building measures cannot be denied.
The Government has not been an idle spectator. It has set the target of cutting down the number of public servants by 100,000 by 2020. Twenty per cent of these will be dismissed as part of efforts to streamline and improve the quality of public services, we have been told.
This is a laudable plan, but what is our implementation record?
Decree 132 issued seven years ago had set several downsizing targets in the public sector, but it seems that the number of public servants has increased since.
Last month, Decree 108 was issued with targets similar to those set seven years ago.
Officials have acknowledged many systemic problems faced in improving the quality and efficiency of public services, including nepotism, which fills up positions with incompetent people.
It is time to back this sincerity with equally sincere action.
One worthwhile start will be the publishing of quality reports that carry information people can trust, not laugh at. — VNS