QUANG NGAI, HA GIANG — Everyday at 2am, Nguyen Van Thuan, a local government official for Pho Cuong Commune in Duc Pho District, Quang Ngai Province, has to get out of bed and go down to a nearby pond to fish.
|Commune level officials in northern Hoa Binh Province's Cao Phong Commune are conducting procedures to provide loans to poor households. They must also struggle to make ends meet themselves. — VNA/VNS Photo Tran Viet
After three hours in the cold water, he has normally caught enough to earn about VND50,000 to 70,000 (US$2.3-3.3). During the day, Thuan helps local villagers complete paperwork and procedures to apply for social protection policies and other State benefits.
"I have to earn extra money because I receive only about VND1.5 million ($71) a month from my job," Thuan said. "That's only enough to buy petrol and attend weddings."
Nguyen Thi Thu Ha, a labour, invalids and social affairs official for Pho La Commune in Ha Giang Province's Dong Van District, said their staff had to foot the cost of travelling between hamlets to visit residents, and to the district to submit reports, despite the difficult terrain.
"With only about VND2 million ($95) per month including benefits, it's extremely difficult to make ends meet, and the cost of food and other goods here can be more expensive compared with that in the lowland," Ha said.
According to statistics from the Ministry of Home Affairs, the country has about 233,000 local officials on its payroll who are paid according to the level of their education, usually from VND1.5 to 1.7 million ($72-80) per month.
Since 2009, Lo Van Mien, deputy chairman of Si Lo Lau Commune in Lai Chau, has been living in a 20sq.m room in the village's People's Committee building. The room doubles as his home and his office, and he uses it to hold meetings with local residents.
"Besides my administration work, I am also in charge of activities relating to a programme that supports housing, education, poverty reduction and agriculture in poor villages," he told Nong Thon Ngay Nay (Countryside Today) newspaper. "Even with additional regional allowances, the prices here are even higher than those in Ha Noi, so it's still very hard to get by."
According to Nguyen Van Thanh, deputy director of Lai Chau Department of Home Affairs, the province has over 100 communes, wards and towns with around 2,000 local officials.
"We estimate that only 38 percent of staff members are properly trained, and only 137 graduated from university. They have mountains of work to get through and they move around a lot, but they're not entitled to higher salaries because of the Government's education-based payroll scale," he said.
The situation is similar in most villages in the country's remote and mountainous provinces.
Cung Chan Trang, an official from Pho La Commune, said unlike lowland officials who could easily find second jobs, Pho La's location on the rocky mountainous border made it practically impossible for people to find additional employment.
Trang said it was important that officials received support because their jobs were essential and helped raise awareness about Government policies.
Truong Van Vinh, an administration official for Ban Lau Commune, Muong Khuong District, Lao Cai Province, said he and his colleagues were the ones busy implementing important Government programmes including poverty reduction and household surveys.
"So the workload is huge," Vinh said. "We have to work additional hours all the time but never dare to ask for overtime money." — VNS