Officials must meet people to learn their needs

December 15, 2018 - 09:00

In Việt Nam, numerous officials are still invisible to ordinary people.

Nà Hỳ Border Post officials meet residents in Nà Hỳ Commune, Nậm Pồ District, Điện Biên Province. — Photo

Khánh Chi

It’s 10:30pm on a Monday. Singapore’s Senior Minister of State Maliki Osman busies himself with a pile of papers containing issues raised by people during a recently concluded “Meet-The-People” session.

I was there, and I witnessed a sort of meeting between the Singaporean politician and the people of Siglap, a neighbourhood in Bedok in the Eastern region of the city state. I saw the people’s happiness as they realised they finally had someone to help sort out their problems.

Every Monday evening from 8 to 9:30pm, any resident can meet their representative (a member of parliament – MP) to discuss matters that affect their lives. This gives the MPs a better understanding of their constituents’ situations, and lets them suggest available schemes and solutions that people may not be aware of. If no such solution exists, the MP may gain ideas for policies the government could adopt to improve residents’ lives.

The scene may be familiar to Singaporeans, but for me it is something extraordinary.

In Việt Nam, numerous officials are still invisible to ordinary people. They often reason that meetings, business trips and tight working schedules make them unable to receive local people. In most cases, they are visible only when they appear on mass media.

It is understandable that they are busy because they hold important positions that ultimately serve the people who trusted and voted for them to be in their leadership and management positions.

However, I do not see how they can guide their people in the right direction smoothly and efficiently if they do not know what people in their localities need most for their daily lives.

Statistics presented at the sixth sitting of the National Assembly (NA) last month in Hà Nội agonised many with the fact that among the already low 48 per cent of provincial People’s Committee leaders that periodically met with local residents in 2018, many assigned the task to their deputies. Representatives from many localities such as Bắc Giang, Đồng Nai, Hà Tĩnh and Phú Yên had no meetings with local people.

According to the Government’s report on the settlement of complaints and petitions delivered in November, the number of petitions and denunciations in 2018 increased by 11.8 per cent compared to last year and the number of cases rose by 4.7 per cent. Most petitions involving a large number of petitioners were related to land.

During a conference held to review officials’ meetings with people and the settlement of appeals and complaints two years ago, Prime Minister Nguyễn Xuân Phúc said that officials’ reluctance to directly talk with local residents was one of reasons behind people’s discontent and complaints.

The PM wondered if it was reasonable that many province, district and commune leaders had never met local residents face to face.

Addressing the seventh Congress of the Việt Nam Farmers’ Union on Wednesday, Party General Secretary and President Nguyễn Phú Trọng made it clear that some officials are unaware of the thoughts and expectations of farmers.

The Law on Reception of Citizens, which came into effect in November, 2013, says the head of a province must meet with voters at least once a month, while the head of a commune must hold the meetings once a week. Ministers and heads of ministerial-level bodies are also required to receive local people at least once a month.

Obviously, it is the leaders’ responsibility to listen to, learn about, and help resolve issues within their locality. The legal framework is already there, so if they fail to abide by it they have violated the law. Those who break the law must be properly dealt with by the law.

NA deputy Vũ Trọng Kim from Hải Dương Province stressed the importance of talking with citizens and properly responding to their claims, whether they are rational or irrational.

Saying it is not right at all to transfer the claims around without solving them, Kim said: “if any official fails to do so, he or she should resign. Leaders should not just go around visiting this place and that place.”

Let’s talk

Dialogue should be considered the principle method for dealing with petitions and claims, and officials should conduct the process in a serious and constructive manner.

Let us take a look at the site clearance dispute involving the Thủ Thiêm new urban area project in HCM City, approved by the then Prime Minister in 1996.

For many years, residents affected had submitted complaints about land reclamation and illegal site clearance. Only direct talks between the highest levels of the city’s authorities and local residents finally organised in mid-2018 helped resolve the case.

Similarly, disputes related to the management and use of the land for Miếu Môn Airport in Đồng Tâm Commune in Hà Nội’s Chương Mỹ District in 2017 only came to an end with a dialogue between the municipal People’s Committee chairman Nguyễn Đức Chung and the residents.

I was not born or raised during the period of late President Hồ Chí Minh, but I am always impressed with images featuring the late President and many of the national leaders living and working with normal people, which demonstrate their words and deeds “respect the people, stay close to the people, understand the people and learn from the people” to set examples of competent leaders.

After a long working day, SMS Osman still shows a gentle smile and sympathy to those he meets every Monday evening.  For him, the most important thing is “how we appear and show them [local residents] that we sympathise with them.”

“I cannot say 100 per cent of appeals are dealt with successfully,” Osman said. “I’m here to explain in detail for them to understand the system, and find solutions to help them and give them some hope.”

I am convinced that the best way for a leader to bring happiness and prosperity to their community and to gain trust, which in turn helps secure their position in future terms, is to talk to the people they care for and work to help solve their issues. — VNS