Government officials must stop wasting State funds

Update: August, 11/2016 - 10:07
Lê Kim Toàn

The use of millions of dong from the state budget by a Government official from the central Bình Định province to study what turned out to be a fraudlent PhD course abroad has stirred public outcry in recent days.

Lê Kim Toàn, who is currently the province’s Permanent Deputy Party Secretary, registered to study a course on Education Management at Bulucan State University in the Philippines from 2011 to 2013 when he was Head of the provincial Department of Propaganda and Training.

The course cost nearly VNĐ400 million (US$17,900) and was paid for by the State budget following the approval of provincial authorities.

Recent investigations by the Party Central Examination Committee into Toàn, who was elected as a National Assembly in May, found that his PhD degree was not recognised by the Ministry of Education and Training. The degree does not clearly mention whether his training was full-time or part-time.

Further investigations are being made but this incident once against raises concerns about the ineffective use of the State budget in training for Government officials.

Toàn’s is not the first case of the State budget being misused for higher education. In 2010, former  Permanent Deputy Party Secretary of northern Yên Bái province Nguyễn Văn Ngọc was found to use nearly VND80 million ($3,600) of State funds to cover part of the fee of a PhD course on business management at the Southern Pacific University in Malaysia. The official got his PhD after six months of study, however it soon turned out to be invalid.

Government officials should get higher education. Well-educated leaders will create more effective and accountable governments. However, this does not mean that leaders need to earn a masters or PhD degree. A leader is elected for his or her communication skills and capacity, not by degrees. As former Minister of Education and Training Phạm Minh Hạc said, promotions cannot depend on degrees.

Former Minister of Planning and Investment Bùi Quang Vinh said going abroad for ineffective training was a waste of State funds.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 2013 reported that an estimated 3,200 delegations of Vietnamese officials from ministries and sectors made foreign trips each year. Each trip of about ten officials is estimated to cost nearly $50,000, highlighting the burden on the State budget every year.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Phạm Bình Minh admitted that many of these trips were ineffective, including overlapping missions that served no purpose.

Many officials sent abroad for short-term studying and learning use huge amounts of the State budget but spend most of their time touring or shopping.

Meanwhile, tens of thousands are still hungry, thousands of new schools are needed to help children in disadvantaged areas access education and thousands of bridges are needed to help people cross rivers to work and study safely. We wait for all these things because of a scarce State budget.

The General Statistic Office reported that in July alone, 23,200 households across Việt Nam were pushed into hunger or 97,300 people didn’t have enough food. Compared to the same period last year, the number of hungry households rose by 5.2 times, whereas the number of undernourished people was 4.9 times higher.

This year to date, hungry households have received aid, donated by central and local agencies and organisations, totaling VNĐ590 million ($26,339) in cash, not much more than was spent on the Binh Dinh official’s ‘PhD’.

While total state budget collection from the start of the year was VNĐ500.8 trillion ($22.4 billion), total state budget spending was estimated at VNĐ606.4 trillion ($27.1 billion). Since the beginning of the year, state budget overspending was more than VNĐ105.6 trillion.

The first two storms to hit Việt Nam this year caused damage worth more than VNĐ6.7 trillion ($297.7 million). At least four people died with another seven missing in the northern mountainous Lào Cai province last week after typhoon Nida-triggered flooding struck the province. If the province had enough money to evacuate those in high-risk areas tragedy could have been avoided. According to the provincial evacuation plan in 2016, 391 households living in high risk areas should be evacuated but it could only move 72 households. 

There are so many things the State budget is needed for, but somehow it’s still being wasted.

Current and emerging leaders need training to prepare them to make and implement laws. Many tax-payers feel it is ok to use State money to fund our leaders’ higher education. However, the money must be used effectively.

Developing a country needs not only well-educated leaders but also awareness and practicality. Leaders, managers and administrators need to understand their roles as they relate to strategic planning, project management, human resource management and fiscal responsibility, in accordance with the wishes of their people.

The fight against State budget wastefulness is huge and needs the involvement of the whole of society. In this battle, Government officials should set a strong example.

Not only those who waste funds but also heads of ministries, localities and sectors that approved the spending must take responsibility.

Change cannot happen overnight. But a small change in the mindset of some Government officials in using State funds could contribute to creating big changes in the country. - VNS