Vietnam province puts derelict officials on TV

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Empty seats at a conference in Quang Tri Province after many  officials left early. Photo by Nguyen Phuc

Quang Tri Province has decided it will not just name and shame officials who are derelict in their duty, but also show their shameful act on television.

On the recommendation of province chairman Nguyen Duc Cuong, Quang Tri Television has been showing clips about officials who play truant or do personal work during office hours.

The first clip some time ago came as a rude shock to officials when it showed one district chairman and two provincial department directors sauntering in for a province-level meeting despite already being late, Tran Dang Mau, the channel's news head, said.

The clips are shown during the 8 p.m. news once a week though not on a fixed day.

A six-member provincial inspection team including Mau has been set up and one of its tasks is to randomly shoot inside government offices -- sometimes based on tip-offs -- to make videos of officials failing to do their jobs.

Mau said one video even showed many media executives leaving a review meeting just an hour after it started "to remind ourselves, the [watchdog], to perform better."

He said the station gets complaints from the people involved after every shoot and broadcast, but tells them to talk to the province chairman who initiated it.

"Everyone gets paid the same, so it is not okay for some to work and others not to," Cuong, the Quang Tri chairman, said.

"First-time offenders will be rebuked, but repetitions will affect their bonuses or worse."

The program has put many agencies in a spot, including the people's committee of Dong Ha town, the provincial capital, the departments of Natural Resources and Environment and Science and Technology, and several district and commune agencies.

Tran Huu Anh, chief inspector at the Department of Internal Affairs who leads the team, said the public supports the program and often tips them off.

"People are very happy. They have been calling us to either congratulate us or tip us off."

One tip-off took the team to the Ward 1 government office in Dong Ha Town which, at 2 p.m. on a working day, was locked from outside while many people were waiting outside.

The office bosses turned up later and said the entire office had gone for a funeral.

Anh said the program is having an effect. "Cafés in the morning and pubs at night no longer have so many officials who are now afraid of being seen on TV."

But he admitted there is still some way to go.

"Before the Lunar New Year (in February), we went to the Gio Linh District Finance and Planning office and found the staff having a drinking party right there. When we took out the camera, some of them asked us to show sympathy saying the party was a farewell for the office head.

"A teacher and a doctor caught at a pub during working hours said they were not on duty at that time, but then I asked them what if a teacher fell sick or there is an emergency at the hospital."

Anh said his team blacklists anyone absent from their desks without leave.

The campaign has received support from officials too, he said.

The Party chief of Hai Lang District, Tran Ngoc Anh, has asked the district television station to do the same thing and send to the provincial channel, he revealed.

The campaign would continue, possibly through this year, he said.

In mid-March, in Quang Tri's neighborhood, the Party Unit chief of Quang Binh Province had also conducted a surprise inspection, catching 15 employees of local agencies hanging out in local coffee shops during working hours.  

Luong Ngoc Binh said he would conduct more spot checks in other parts of the province, and "strictly" punish violators.

In a country where Deputy PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc has said 30 percent of around 2.8 million public servants do not bring "any efficiency to their jobs," the government is waking up to public frustration and showing some determination to spruce up its image.

Since last year, many provinces across Vietnam have issued a ban on civil servants from drinking during lunch on working days.

Also, they were no longer allowed to receive guests outside the office. Anyone violating the bans could be fired from the job.

But the jury is still out on the ban, with skeptics saying they have to wait and see how long the ban will last and how much it will deliver.

Vietnam has issued a raft of laws and regulations but they have been virtually impossible to enforce because they lacked the implementation guidelines and personnel needed.

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