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Bulky, costly but yet efficient
Son Nguyen
Friday,  Jan 19, 2018,14:42 (GMT+7)

Bulky, costly but yet efficient

Son Nguyen

A painful answer is finally given to the question over the ever-rising State budget for regular expenses and the shrinking appropriations for growth: the overstaffed State machinery. The State Audit Office of Vietnam, in a conference this Monday, announced its findings: the number of redundant public servants in the State apparatus is 57,175. Such a huge number is calculated based on the regulatory staffing policies for the State machinery, although it is widely agreed that the State machinery itself is already bulky and should be further streamlined.

Speaking at the review conference, Doan Xuan Tien, deputy general director of the State Audit Office of Vietnam, demanded that all State agencies take drastic efforts to address the staff redundancy in accordance with prevailing regulations, news site Vnexpress reports. Such a call, however, is just a repetition of previous efforts to make the State machinery leaner. The Politburo of the Party, the central Government, ministries and localities have issued resolutions and decisions to streamline organizational structures, but the results, according to local media, are in stark contrast to such efforts.

Examples of staffing violations are numerous. The State Audit Office of Vietnam, in an inspection in Vinh Phuc Province, points out that several departments and divisions in the northern province are staffed with more leaders than employees. “Up to 38 out of 45 public servants at Vinh Phuc’s Department of Education and Training are ranking managers. At many education divisions in Vinh Phuc’s districts, leaders and managers outnumber employees, and at one division, all people there are ranking managers,” says Vnexpress, quoting the State Audit Office.

In the wake of the State Audit Office of Vietnam’s announcement on redundancy, many newspapers refer to a weird case at the External Economic Division under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, saying redundancy there constitutes a gross violation of the staffing policy. At this division, there are two directors, namely Luu Quang Khanh and Tran Nhat Thanh, and as many as six deputy directors, according to Thanh Nien. A leader of the ministry admits to the newspaper that “having two top leaders at the same division goes against the State regulations…. and having up to six deputy directors is also wrong.”

However, the ministry leader explains that previously, the Laos and Cambodia Cooperation Board and the External Economic Division were separate units at the ministry headed by the above-named officials, but later these two units were merged into one. The two officials have retained their rankings and titles, which is why there are two directors in the same division.

Commenting on the redundancy at the External Economic Division, Nguyen Dinh Huong, former deputy head of the Central Organization Commission, says in Dan Viet that such a situation is also found in many other State agencies. “It is not at the Ministry of Planning and Investment only. In many other agencies, there are heads of divisions alongside those of the same ranks and titles who do not assume the corresponding jobs. Worse still, in a certain division, apart from three or four deputy directors, there are also three or four more people with the same ranks and titles as deputy directors (though not assuming such jobs),” he is quoted as saying.

In a commentary, Lao Dong says that the personnel issue at this division is unimaginable. “At just one division, staffing irregularities have been that many. Just think of numerous other State agencies with similar wrongdoing, and the number of redundant people as high as nearly 60,000 is understandable,” says the paper, sarcastically lamenting how the people can feed such an overstaffed State machinery.

The paper stresses that the payroll for such redundant public servants makes a deep cut into the State budget. “Assume that each redundant staff receives a monthly wage of VND5 million, the total cost will be some VND3,430 billion a year. That is not to mention the costs of working space, vehicles, water and power bills, and computers among others,” says Lao Dong.

The big problem is that despite efforts by top authorities to downsize the State workforce, the real number is still on the rise.

Citing a report recently delivered by Pham Minh Chinh, head of the Central Organization Commission, Tuoi Tre says the number of public servants per 1,000 people in Vietnam is 43, excluding the number serving in the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Public Security. Meanwhile, in some regional countries, the number inclusive of military and security personnel is far lower, at just 13 in the Philippines, 16 in India, and 17 in Indonesia.

More specifically, Thanh Nien says the total number on the State payroll exclusive of military and security personnel as of last March was over four million. Also citing the report by Pham Minh Chinh, the paper stresses that after two years implementing the Politburo’s Resolution 39 – which is aimed to cut the State payroll by 70,000 each year – the total number has not dropped, but leapt by an additional 96,000. Chinh of the Central Organization Commission also noted that countries around the world have between 12 and 16 ministries on average, while in Vietnam there are as many as 22 ministries and equivalent bodies.

Such a bulky and overstaffed State machinery is the key reason why development investment has been in decline while regular expenditures have surged. The overall investment in the economy as a proportion of the gross domestic product has tumbled from 38.4% in the 2007-2011 to 31.9% in the following five years, 2012 to 2017, according to data from the Ministry of Planning and Investment, which attributes the downtrend mainly to dwindling public investment.

Commenting on the budget for the State payroll, Nguoi Lao Dong says regular expenditures devour up to 70% of the annual State budget, and wages for the State workforce account for 47% of this sum.

Therefore, says the newspaper, it is high time to pinpoint shortcomings in the State staffing mechanism. “The 57,175 redundant people in the State machinery should not be blamed. Those who recruit and appoint such public servants should be to blame,” says the paper. “Those responsible for such redundancy must be pinpointed and held accountable,… so that (we) can build a streamlined but efficient State apparatus,” says the paper.

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