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People need a voice in reform, say experts

 In 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs is expected to order the nationwide implementation of the Public Administration Reform index, which gives citizens a voice to give feedback on the quality of public services.

VietNamNet Bridge – In 2013, the Ministry of Home Affairs is expected to order the nationwide implementation of the Public Administration Reform (PAR) index, which gives citizens a voice to give feedback on the quality of public services. This represents a shift towards results-based monitoring and a new kind of evaluation of the government's performance in public administration. Viet Nam News talks to some of the experts on this issue.
Can you assess our progresses in undertaking administrative reform in 2012?

* Dinh Duy Hoa, head of the Ministry of Home Affairs' Administrative Reform Department (MoHA)

In April 2012, the Government issued Decree 36, stipulating the functions, tasks, rights, structure and organisation of ministries and ministerial-level agencies. After many years of consistent efforts, the decree has been enforced and is helping further clarify the management role of ministries and sectors.

In October, the PM also approved a project speeding up reforms to the civil employees' system. We have piloted the PAR index in three ministries and six provinces and cities and have also submitted a project to expand the one-door administrative system by 2015.

* Jairo Acuna-Alfaro, policy adviser on public administration reform and anti-corruption for the United Nations Development Programme in Viet Nam

In 2012, important efforts have been made in terms of clarifying different public sector positions as well as their roles, functions and organisational structures. These reforms are relevant but more complex now that Viet Nam is a middle-income country.
 

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Mr Jairo Acuna-Alfaro. (Photo: VNN)

While progress has been made since 2009 with the law on State Employees and Civil Servants and its subsequent guiding normative documents, citizens continue to feel that personal connections play an important role in obtaining state employment. These trends were found in PAPI (Public Administration Performance Index).

It seems there are signs of progress in terms of clarifying and simplifying procedures. Overall, citizens seems to be satisfied with their experiences when dealing with different administrative procedures, in particular regarding certification, personal documents and construction permits.

* Nguyen Thanh Chinh, deputy head of Vinh Phuc Department of Home Affairs (DoHA)

 For Vinh Phuc Province, in July 2012 the People's Committee approved the administration reform programme for 2012-20 so we can implement and monitor efforts throughout the system. At the beginning of 2012, we were chosen as one of the six provinces to implement the PAR index. Starting in January 2013 we have also established a committee to promote and support administrative issues related to investment.

The People's Committee also approved a decision in July to increase the level of compensation for staff working at the one-stop administrative ‘shops' in all sectors.

What do you think are the main challenges for Viet Nam as it reforms its administrative systems and how can the PAR index help in addressing these challenges?

Hoa: When the Government's 10-year programme of administrative reform ended in 2010, we were required to pick out some ministries and provinces that performed particularly well and propose that they be recognised by the Government.

We could feel which places did better than others, but there was no tool for assessing their efforts. The promulgation of the PAR Index to rank ministries, agencies and provinces is very important. More importantly, it allows them to see their and can improve from there.

The PAR Index can be considered a new tool for implementing the nationwide programme of administrative reform in 2011-20. The index mobilises the participation of organisations, residents and enterprises in assessing the results of reform in an objective way.

From 2013 we will be able to monitor residents' satisfaction about the work of state employees and limit the "bossy" mindset of some state officials while serving the local people.

By the end of the second quarter, we expect to have a comprehensive ranking of the work being performed by most state agencies nationwide.

Acuna-Alfaro: The two main challenges ahead for Viet Nam in reforming its administrative system are: bringing a more transparent and simpler incentive and remuneration system and a culture of service delivery to the system.

These two challenges refer also to the importance of looking more rigorously at the issues of performance and efficiency. These are compulsory challenges that cannot be ignored any longer as part of the administrative reform agenda, because in a system where bad performance is not punished, the message given to society is that bad performance can continue because it leads to no consequences.

As a middle-income country, the pressure from citizens is greater. However, practices of nepotism, biased relationships, dispersed remuneration and an opaque environment in which "incentives" are offered still remain widespread.

These practices are typical in low-income countries, but Viet Nam is no longer in this category and for it to catch up with upper middle-income countries it needs to deal with these issues sooner rather than later.

The pilot PAR Index found that service providers (i.e. government officials) tend to have more positive opinions of service delivery, while citizens and members of mass organisations tend to think less positively.

Chinh: Vinh Phuc recorded a score of 68.93 for the PAR Index during the pilot process, which reflected quite correctly the province's administrative reform efforts. The pilot process, which was from December 2011 to May 2012, helped us identify the priorities for administration reform process in 2012-20.

However, we understand that reform is a difficult issue that can affect the benefits of every state agency, organisation and the state employee. In addition, the index includes many types of criteria and the scoring system can be quite complex and must be monitored throughout different channels. The resources used to support and carry out PAR was limited, especially in terms of the people, money, facilities and equipment.

What differentiates the PAR Index from the Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) and the Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI)?

Hoa: When applying the PAR index, self-assessment makes up 60 per cent of the total result. The points rated by residents and the assessing agency make up the remaining 40 per cent. The PAR index will assess ministries' work in steering, managing, reforming, organising and improving the quality of employees.

In provinces, the index will also rate their implementation of regulations and laws in their localities. If we conform to the index, we will thus have a general picture of the country's public administration system.

Each index is managed by different agencies but they all aim at enforcing better services for residents.

Acuna-Alfaro: In terms of objectives, the PAR Index aims to capture performance in the implementation of the PAR reform agenda as understood by the Government.

The PAR Index will be a set of different surveys administered to different respondents.

Selected citizens will be requested to fill out the questionnaire given by personnel from MoHA and DoHAs. In terms of numbers, it is not clear yet, but it has to be defined by the Ministry and also consistent with other provinces.

In terms of methodologies, the PAR Index applies government approved survey models and relies on government officials, in particular personnel at the departments of home affairs, to collect the data and information.

The PAR Index is expected to be implemented in 2013. Are you optimistic about the results it could bring?

Hoa: Residents obviously do not care about how many indexes there are, they only care about how well administrative agencies work. If the agencies do not work well, they will not satisfy residents regardless of how many indexes are applied.

Anyway, the indexes help us compare and rank agencies. The agencies will improve their shortcomings based on the results, which are helpful in supporting supervision and management.

Acuna-Alfaro: Yes, I am very optimistic about the results of the PAR Index. This is undoubtedly a shift in the government's thinking to create more evidence-based policy monitoring tools. I look forward to the PAR Index being expanded nationwide in 2013 so that it provides information to the government agencies that helps them understand their areas of performance (good and bad) and act upon them.

I am also optimistic that with its own PAR Index, the Government can also pay greater attention to other such tools to monitor performance, as they are complementary rather than competitive to each other.

There are indeed too few of such indices or performance measurement tools. There are still many obstacles in the implementation of these types of methodologies in the country. These obstacles are related to the overall governance environment, but also to a data-averse policy making culture. As Viet Nam progresses to higher development levels, these tools will start to emerge more prominently in other fields.

Chinh: For Vinh Phuc Province, the Department of Home Affairs has been requested to implement the PAR Index in 2013 and it will allow all state sectoral agencies and the people's committees at district and communal levels to aim for a clear goal in 2013. It also allows the relevant agencies and businesses in the province to take part in monitoring administration reform, and especially assessing the behaviour of civil servants in assisting the residents.

Those who work at the one-stop shops in the province must follow procedures, otherwise they could affect the general scoring and the work and image of that particular agency.

Source: VNS

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