Hiring the right people key to public sector reform

By Bao Van, Thanh Nien News (The story can be found in the February 28 issue of our print edition, Vietweek)

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Still from a video clip recorded secretly by reporters of QTV channel show police officers of Hai Lang Commune of Quang Tri Province toasting during office hours

The planned purge of 100,000 workers is only a temporary solution to improving the government sector. Strict regulations that will ensure only qualified people enter it is the real answer, says Ngo Thanh Can, deputy director of the Department of Organization and Human Resource Management of the National Academy of Public Administration. 

The Ministry of Home Affairs has released a draft resolution seeking to downsize the 2.8-million strong government workforce by 100,000 between 2014 and 2020. It says that people working in areas they are not qualified for, those lacking competence and those appointed government representatives in state-owned enterprises that have since been privatized will be laid off. Do you think this will work?

Ngo Thanh Can: The government’s Resolution No. 132, implemented from 2007 to 2011, had cut 67,000 public servants, mainly by offering voluntary retirement. Now, the government is drafting a new resolution as many people who are not qualified enough have been recruited into the government in recent years.

Leaders of some sectors and National Assembly delegates have said 30 percent of public servants fail to do their work efficiently. Others think that the rate may be even higher.

The current draft resolution envisages 100,000 employees leaving between 2014 and 2020, with 80 percent of them being allowed to retire before reaching retirement age and 20 percent laid off.

The number of government workers which would be cut each year is over 16,000. It is not very large, equaling that effected under Resolution 132. So I think the reduction is feasible.

However, what we are interested in is the resolution’s effectiveness and its impacts on society. We have to implement well the resolution to remove unqualified employees from the government, keep good ones, and recruit new ones with of good quality.

The resolution’s effectiveness will depend on upcoming policies on the recruitment and treatment of talents. Without such policies, the social impact will not be great and citizens’ belief in the government will fall further.

There are concerns that relatives of senior officials and leaders will not be laid off despite failing to work efficiently. Can you comment? 

The issue is that too many unqualified workers have been recruited into the government. Our recruitment regulations are not strictly implemented, so those who are relatives, have connections or those who are able to offer bribes have become government employees.

Local governments should declare detailed recruitment criteria, and build a standard system to assess who meets or fails to meet work requirements.

The downsizing policy will only work well if inefficient workers are weeded out irrespective of their connections or relations.

There is also the possibility that qualified employees who are unpopular with their bosses are laid off, or even that some bosses lose their jobs when they try to dismiss relatives of those who have higher positions. To avoid this, we have to strengthen inspections of the policy’s implementation.

There should be special missions in provinces to monitor the implementation process.

You mean provinces should establish independent inspection teams to monitor implementation of the government’s downsizing policy?

Right. We can do this two ways. Local governments can hire private professional consultant companies to assess and monitor the downsizing process or employ highly qualified experts in human resource management to do this.

You have said that the government should have implemented strict recruitment policies instead of cutting employees. Please explain this further.

The root of the problem will not be solved if a policy only provides a temporary solution. Weeding out disqualified or inefficient employees is a temporary solution. To develop the government sector, we should also replace bad employees with good ones. For this, the filtering process must happen at the time of recruitment. The government sector will also not develop if we do not treat employees well, especially talented ones.

The implementation of the draft resolution is expected to cost around VND8 trillion (US$379.3 million) in pensions and other payments. Is this acceptable or a waste of scarce funds?

Dismissing unqualified workers can improve the quality of the government sector and increase citizens’ confidence and belief, which has much higher value than VND8 trillion. However, if the policy is not implemented well, it would be wasteful and have negative impacts on the society as a whole.

Vietnam’s earlier efforts to downsize the government have not proved effective. What should be done to make sure the upcoming effort does not suffer the same fate?

To have a good government sector, we have to dismiss unqualified public servants, recruit employees with good professional capacity and good morals. To this end, we should raise awareness of these issues for all government workers, review and rearrange work of government employees, and improve the treatment of employees, in particular the talented ones.

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