Vietnam minister's golf ban may not pass legal muster

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A recent notice issued by newly appointed Transport Minister Dinh La Thang asking ministry officials to stop playing golf to save time for work is "impractical," a Ministry of Justice official said Thursday.

Le Hong Son, chief of a department in charge of inspecting legal documents, said that the new Transport Minister should curb his enthusiasm and be aware of his authority, as well as that of others.

On October 17, Thang issued a notice banning senior officials from agencies and companies under the authority of the Transport Ministry from playing golf, which he said was an unduly time-consuming activity.

"Over the last years, some leaders of agencies and companies have showed their inattentive attitude at work, which has affected the progress of public projects and developments," Thang's directive said.

"One of the reasons for their loose management is that they had spent too much time playing golf, even during weekends."

"Playing sports in general and golf in particular is good, but when our country is still poor, and the companies themselves are struggling with financial problems, I think we should pay more attention and save more time to work," Thang told the VnExpress newswire on Wednesday.

When asked whether the ban would constitute a violation of personal freedom and supervisory authority, Thang said the ban applies to the Transport Ministry only, and it is similar to the regulation banning Party members from drinking and going to karaoke parlors during working hours.

Thang has assigned the Transport Ministry's Personnel Department to supervise implementation of the ban.

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Pham Tang Loc, chief of the department, said the ban was reasonable.

"The transport ministry is quite different from other ministries because many transport agencies have to work on weekends to finish construction projects on schedule.

"Therefore, transport officials also have to work on weekends. If they go playing golf, it may take them the whole day.

"The ban is quite appropriate in this case. Instead of playing golf, they can play tennis or other sports during their spare time."

Son, however, told Thanh Nien the ban was not practical.

"Why did he ban golf only? Does he think playing tennis or badminton is not time-consuming?

"Some articles in Thang's document violate the rights of public servants, so we will ask the Transport Ministry to revoke the ban."

The Department for Inspection of Legal Documents will also take a look at Thang's recent instructions involving restrictions on personal vehicles.

On October 17, Thang said in a meeting with Hanoi transport authorities that he would propose that the government adjust the working hours of government offices nationwide in an attempt to reduce traffic congestion during rush hours in the capital.

Under the proposal, state offices and agencies would start their workday at 9 a.m. and finish at 6 p.m., about one hour later than the current timetable (8 a.m.-5 p.m.).

His proposal received mixed reactions from the public. Nguyen Quoc Hung, director of the Hanoi Transport Department, agreed that the time adjustment would avoid the overlap of school and work hours.

Since students accounted for about 80 percent of bus passengers during rush hour, the time adjustment could ease the overload, said Nguyen Phi Thuong, director general of the Hanoi Transportation Service Company.

However, some experts said Thang's solution was previously applied in Ho Chi Minh City but did not work.

Many parents complained that such adjustment would disrupt their daily lives. Currently, primary and secondary schools open at 7-7:30 a.m. daily, so parents would have to take their children to school and then wait two hours to go to work, they said.

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