by Minh Thi
"Thirty per cent of State employees are not needed, because they go to the office every day to simply fill their seat. Their poor performance does not bring any practical results," Deputy PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc complained at an NA meeting early this year.
For years, the Government has expressed determination to reduce the number of public employees at State agencies, which would ease payroll pressure on the national budget and improve staff performance. But that's easier said than done.
Since 2007, when Decree 132 on the implementation of the staff reduction policy was issued, the number of public employees throughout the country has not decreased. Rather, it has increased, at both central and local levels.
By the end of last year, the total number of public employees under permanent contract with State agencies from central to district levels has surged to nearly 388,500, excluding those working for State-owned organisations with operational autonomy and the Ministries of National Defence and Public Security.
This represents a rise of over 42,000 people compared to the end of 2007, according to the Ministry of Home Affairs. At communal levels, the figure also rose to nearly 257,700 –over 14,000 more than in 2007.
During the five years since the policy was implemented, nearly 67,400 people quit their jobs at State agencies, but 90.5 per cent of them chose simply to retire early.
With its first staff reduction policy a proven failure, the Ministry of Home Affairs is drafting another public staff reduction strategy for the 2014-20 period.
Setting a more achievable goal, the Government decided to aim to keep the number the same for three years. Still, State officials said even this modest target posed a challenge.
Bui Sy Loi, Deputy Head of the NA Committee for Social Affairs, explained that the policy had failed so catastrophically because there was no specific plan for how many staff would be cut, nor were there standards that State agencies could use to decide whom to let go.
Still, many leaders stressed the need for staff reduction in Governmental agencies, saying that too many State employees worked halfheartedly and failed to devote their full efforts towards their work, causing inefficiencies.
If Phuc's estimation of thirty per cent was exact, then approximately 193,850 public employees are being paid to laze around the office, according to Ministry of Home Affairs 2012 statistics. A huge waste of the national budget indeed!
But it is not only the wasted salary that is concerning. The image of lazy Government officials also makes State offices look unprofessional.
Nguyen Van Thanh, a fourth-year student at the Ha Noi University of Technology, said he wanted to work for a prestigious State-owned company after graduation.
He was informed that the company paid quite well and the work was not so heavy, meaning he would have time to do extra jobs while enjoying a stable income.
"The working environment is more comfortable there than in private companies, who prioritise results," Thanh said.
My acquaintances working in State agencies echoed Thnh's words, telling me they chose State enterprises because the work was less demanding, rather than because they particularly enjoyed working for the Government.
Ngo Thi Nhung, who works at the Ha Noi-based branch of a State-owned telecommunications company, said while working half-heartedly was not accepted in her workplace, many of her friends who enjoyed permanent labour contracts with State agencies could take it easy with no repercussions.
"People should choose a job at State agencies because it suits their skills or because they want to create positive change, not because it's easy," she said.
Nhung said the fact that so many public officials enjoyed stable incomes without having to work whole-heartedly was unacceptable to her but sadly commonplace, which explained why more and more people applied for jobs at State agencies each year.
"This is why many talented people choose to work in private or foreign-owned companies – they offer a more professional environment with proper incentives for good performers."
In my opinion, in order for the Government to realise its target of staff reduction, public employees' performance must be held up to professional standards. Additionally, there must be a detailed staff reduction plan.
Even more importantly, we need commitment from the Government to get rid of idle State employees and those in redundant positions. Without such strict measures, State-owned agencies will retain their unprofessional image. — VNS