by Hong Thuy
Most civil servants who drink appear to enjoy their tipple a bit too much, leaving a negative impact on their work at state agencies in Viet Nam.
This affinity for alcohol was evident to Nguyen Huy Quang, head of the law department under the Ministry of Health, when he used to go on business trips to remote provinces. He found beer and wine being served from breakfast time onwards. So critical had the situation become that at times, officials of the Ga Ry Commune People's Committee could only be met at 3pm, with many showing clear signs of intoxication. Incidentally, government offices close at 5pm. Ga Ry is one of the poorest communes in Quang Nam Province's Tay Giang District. Here, the number of poor households hovers at around 73 per cent.
But the tide is changing. Controlling binge drinking at public offices is essential if Viet Nam is going to lower public expenditure, which has been increasing in recent years.
A prime ministerial decree issued on February 8, 2007, to reduce the alcohol consumption of civil servants is apparently receiving a positive response and being implemented. This is especially evident within the Ga Ry Commune People's Committee.
It is common for officials to buy alcohol using government funds allocated for meetings and conferences. But in a heartening move, officials and staff here have cut down on alcohol purchases to save money to buy computers. Not only do they save money, but they also have more time to finish their work and enhance their knowledge.
Considering the happy change that has taken place, the chairman of the committee, Briah Nhoop, said that earlier, officials and staff were accustomed to attending committee meetings and functions while drunk. They neglected their duty, he said, and fell short of doing a good job.
Worse, drinking leads to extra spending on social issues. The permanent deputy Party secretary of Ga Ry's border post, Captain Trinh Minh Truc, noted that the state budget allocated to the commune to organise meetings and conferences amounted to tens of millions of dong each year.
To use this money more effectively, Truc developed an innovative idea. Ever since he started working in Ga Ry in 2010, he has asked government workers to curtail their binge drinking activities and instead help the commune buy computers. And that is how the "Exchanging Liquor and Beer for Computers Movement" was launched. Today, the commune has 32 desktop and personal computers and is a sterling example of how the prime minister's instructions were followed, ending in great success.
Ironically, it was also found that there is a connection between alcohol consumption and education amongst civil servants. Viet Nam's Health Strategy and Policy Institute recently disclosed that higher levels of education were directly related to higher liquor and beer consumption.
It was found that 77 per cent of those holding postgraduate degrees consumed more liquor and beer, followed by those with university and college degrees, at 46 per cent, and lastly, those with primary education at 27 per cent.
The institute also found that binge drinking can be linked to certain careers. Those who worked in state agencies and enterprises, were self-employed, or were pensioners drank more than those who were uneducated, unemployed or poor.
The data reveals that people with a higher income, better education and higher social status were more likely to drink liquor and beer. It also shows that public and civil servants, in general, have not yet set a good example for others, despite the prime minister's regulation.
Deputy chief of the Health Strategy and Policy Institute Vu Thi Minh Hanh pointed out that a significant number of these people had alcoholic drinks during office hours, especially at meetings or receptions.
In an effort to mitigate the consequences of drinking such as rising economic costs, lost work days and property damage, the ministries of transport and justice have issued regulations strictly forbidding civil servants from indulging in drinking during office hours.
Further, the Ministry of Internal Affairs recently sought feedback on a draft regulation banning government employees from drinking during office hours. While there are no clear statistics on how much binge drinking habits are costing the country, it is certain that the effective use of resources will help lower the state budget deficit, leaving the country with more money for the welfare of the people.
Ga Ry's case provides a strong model for making improvements through action rather than words and to convince government officials that staff meetings and other gatherings are not an appropriate venue for binge drinking. — VNS