Minister and Chairman of the Government Office Mai Tiến Dũng. — VNA/VNS Photo
In the interview with Vietnam News Agency, Minister and Chairman of the Government Office Mai Tiến Dũng reflects on the work and challenges the Government has faced in the past five years ahead the National Party Conference as his current Government term comes to an end.
Could you share with us the challenging times Government, and the Government Office, have had to deal with in the term?
This Government term faced a lot of major issues.
On April 23, 2016, very early in the term, during a flight to Điện Biên Province in northern Việt Nam, the Prime Minister first heard the report about the mass fish deaths in Hà Tĩnh in the Formosa marine environment incident.
In recent years, natural inclement conditions have also occurred – repeated salt intrusion in the Mekong Delta, biting cold spells in the northern region, droughts in Central Highlands and floods in central region – at levels unseen before. And in 2020, the big thing is the COVID-19 pandemic, which first emerged in Wuhan, China. World Health Organisation (WHO)’s recommendation before the Tết (Lunar New Year) holiday that year was still that the disease is not transmissible between humans, but we, the Government Office, didn’t think the same and immediately reported to the leadership for responses.
We thought that if the disease was not dangerous then why did the Chinese Politburo have an emergency meeting at the first day of the Lunar New Year, why was Wuhan was put under a strict lockdown and five million residents – likely well-informed and economically well-off – had to flee the lockdown order knowing what was coming, and why did the number of infections reach such a large number in such short time?
We urged the Prime Minister to defy the WHO recommendations, evidence in the Directive 05 on prevention and control of acute pneumonia disease caused by novel strain of coronavirus issued on January 28.
The Government had subsequently issued unprecedented instructions like ‘fighting the pandemic like fighting the enemy,’ and the whole armed forces and the people must engage in the fight against the disease, and then a whole range of measures including closing off the air border, shutting down land border routes, grounding flights to and from China, Japan, South Korea, the US, and Europe. The most drastic measure, of course, was the hard nationwide lockdown provided in the Directive 15 in April, 2020. These were all difficult measures that had never been done before.
If we had purely followed WHO recommendations in the early days of 2020, it’s hard to imagine what the situation in Việt Nam would be like right now.
Without the armed forces and the health staff working tirelessly day and night, we couldn’t have possibly succeeded in the fight against COVID-19. Without a political system like what we have in Việt Nam, without the public buy-in, it would not have been possible.
You used to say that in building e-Government, the most important thing is to dare to forego ‘interests.’ So by now, have our civil workers given up the ‘interests’ to be fully committed to this public cause?
Moves like cutting back administrative procedures and business condition requirements, or moving towards electronic documents instead of paper-based administration, faced huge barriers because they rattle the ossified ‘vested interests’ of many individuals and organisations. Pursuing transparency means we have to strip off these sorts of ‘vested interests’ towards serving the common good.
For example, we need to process about 12 million import-export documents each year, and only 0.06 per cent of them have errors that need to be rectified, but all the papers and procedures still have to be done and many fees still have to be paid to complete these documents. Such a huge waste for the people and businesses.
When public administrative procedures are ‘digitised,’ every citizen would only need a single account that they can log in to various ministries’ portals to carry out the ‘paper work’ instead of having to directly go to a public administrative centre, which help to cut down time, effort, and fees – both formal and informal ones. And most importantly, the procedures done online are all transparent and minimise the risks for petty corruption.
I can say for certain that a very large number of vested interests have been abolished. The Government is held accountable by the public, the businesses and the media.
One of the missions of the Government Office is to assess proposed projects – a task that has a lot to do with ‘interests’ of ministries and sectors. Are you, and others at the Government, under a lot of pressure?
Pressure is a matter-of-fact thing. The Government’s leader has on many occasions called for transparency and elimination of petty corruption at all levels – so that’s the order and it has to be observed, meaning that not just the Government Office but all ministries and local authorities will have to be part of the efforts to reform. I’d say that the pressure has been reduced quite a lot compared to the beginning of the term, now that the efforts to reform have been more widespread.
There’s no room for individualistic opportunism or vested interests in the common efforts towards a strong, prosperous Việt Nam. And that’s not to mention the supervision role of the press and the public, the old mindset of maintaining vested interests would gradually wither.
Those who issued documents, regulations and policies that people and businesses consider to be creating barriers for them or just to benefit the ministries and agencies in charge, then the leaders of those ministries and agencies will have to answer in front of the Government.
It must not be easy to balance the interests of the State, the ministries and agencies, the people, and businesses?
All policies need to balance the interests of all parties involved.
The Government Office is not under the influence of any other ministry, we only take instructions from the Government and the Prime Minister. We have to always be loyal and honest. If we encounter barriers or issues, we report them at Cabinet meetings, with independent critical reviews or reports. If we fail to do that, then our mission is not fulfilled. So in every issue or case, we have to deliberate very carefully, listening to the press or feedback from concerning associations, among others.
Maybe there were points when we have to compromise, but this is not to benefit a certain ministry because they got a hold over it anything. We only do things that are allowed by the law.
As the Minister, Chairman of the Government, and spokesperson for the Government, what do you wish to the public to remember you for, a minister of the people, a minister of action or reforms, or something else?
We at the Government Office are merely helpers who would do the tasks and missions we are entrusted with. I don’t think I have image. We are loyal to the country, and work towards a Government that serves the people and businesses. If people and businesses are satisfied, then we can also be satisfied that we have done meaningful contributions to the country.
With your term coming an end soon, what are your lingering concerns? Are you satisfied with what you have done?
Since the beginning of the term, we were determined to build Government Office into a professional, modern agency that would make use of smart governance. This idea has been propagated to all officials, civil servants and employees in all tasks.
Thanks to everyone’s efforts, the agency has seen drastic improvements, every process from performance evaluation to training, recruitment, personnel planning and appointment are all done in a transparent manner.
The work we do at the Government Office only contributed a small part to the successes of the Government. We still need to try harder, in professional capacity, as well as moral and ideological aspects.
In this fast-changing world, without innovation and reforms, we cannot fulfil our duty to advise the Government.
At the Government Office, one must complete work before leaving the workplace, a working day is not defined by a strict eight-hour schedule.
In the new year, we expect the media to continue accompanying the Government and the Government Office to create two-way information channels. We are the helpers, but what the Government and the Prime Minister have done, we have to communicate them to the public via the reach of the mass media. — VNS