Saturday, August 27, 2016

Vietnam - Public Sector Graft An Issue In Vietnam, But There Could Be One Simple Solution

This picture taken on December 14, 2013 shows Duong Chi Dung, former Vinalines chairman, standing trial at Hanoi’s People’s Court. Vietnam on December 16, 2013 sentenced two former top executives at scandal-hit national shipping company Vinalines to death for embezzlement, a court official said, as authorities move to allay rising public anger over corruption. AFP PHOTO/Vietnam News Agency.

Like just about every developing country, Vietnam struggles with the issue of corruption. It has been officially acknowledged at the highest levels as one of the key factors holding back the country’s progress.

It is an issue that seems intractable at times. And, at least in terms of the perception of corruption and the willingness to weed it out, recent incremental progress seems to have taken a step back, according to a study from the United Nations Development Program.

The Provincial Governance and Public Administration and Performance Index is an annual survey that has been carried out nation-wide since 2011, and reflects people’s experiences with government and public service delivery. It looks at six areas of governance, including participation at local levels, transparency, vertical accountability, control of corruption, public administrative procedures and public service delivery. Almost 14,000 randomly selected citizens were interviewed for the 2015 report, the result of which were released earlier this year.

The “Control of Corruption” dimension looks at limits on public sector corruption, limits on corruption in public service delivery, equity in state employment and willingness to fight corruption. All four of these areas scored lower than in previous years. The survey also found fewer people believed authorities were serious about fighting corruption.

Fewer of those surveyed agreed that public officials did not divert public funds for private use, ask for bribes when handling land use rights certificates or ask for kickbacks when handling construction permits than in 2014. In terms of corruption in public service delivery, the study looked specifically at the health care and primary education systems.

There is still a common practice of paying café tien, or coffee money, to your child’s teacher to ensure they get proper attention, or to move up the waiting list to see a doctor at a public hospital. Public sector wages are absurdly low, a new doctor in the public system will make around $250 a month.

In a paper for the journal Vietnam Law and Legal Forum, researchers from the National Economics University who analyzed data from the 2014 PAPI report, laid the reason for this custom on the remuneration doctors and teachers receive.

“Corruption in these two sectors is widely recognized in Vietnam, and low wages for healthcare workers and teachers and decreasing public investment in the sectors are to blame,” the authors wrote. They further added, “It is commonly perceived that, without additional informal incomes and under-the-table incentives, healthcare staff and teachers would not feel motivated to be attentive to patients and students.”

The same paper offers several broad recommendations for countering the problem of corruption in the country, such as encouraging more people to report corruption, increasing transparency and participation in the political process. These are all fine, but rather amorphous and uncertain in making some kind of tangible and immediate impact. In the meantime, finding the money to bump public sector pay packets might be worth a try.

You can find older posts regarding ASEAN politics and economics news at SBC blog, and older posts regarding health and healthcare at IIMS blog. I thank you.

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