Attitude is the soul of administrative reform

VietNamNet Bridge – The Deputy Chairwoman of a ward in Ha Noi was temporarily suspended yesterday, just a day after an official petition complained about her attitude towards the public.

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Deputy Chairwoman of Dong Da District’s Van Mieu Ward was temporarily suspended yesterday. — Photo

No matter what the merits of the case, such promptness deserves appreciation, because, in the short, medium and long-term, it sets the bar high for official responses to public concerns.

It does not require much imagination to see how some major problems could have been nipped in the bud if administrations, central and local, had been as sprightly as the capital city in this instance.

However, the episode that led to this temporary suspension also carries important lessons.

It all began when Vu Thanh Hoa, a resident of the district’s Van Mieu Ward, approached the local administration to get a death certificate for her father, who passed away on July 18. She needed the certificate to conduct his funeral.

On the morning after the death, Hoa came early to the local People’s Committee to request the death certificate so that she could arrange a funeral ceremony the next day. A clerk named Hieu received her application and told her to return at two in the afternoon. She did so, only to be told that the Deputy Chairwoman who had to sign the document was not in.

Kafkaesque ordeal

In a Kafkaesque ordeal, she was made to wait, go back home and return to the office again for a total of six times, but still could not get the certificate she needed for the funeral ceremony.

An acrimonious argument ensued between Hoa, her sister, Hieu and a woman named Ha, who turned out to be the Deputy Chairwoman. Hoa said the woman called her and her sister uneducated and asked security to escort them out of the office.

Because of the undue delay in getting the death certificate, Hoa was unable to book with the funeral home and her father had to wait for another day to be buried. Adding to the heartbreak of losing a loved one was the inability to give him a timely funeral, which is deeply important to all Vietnamese citizens, given our strong traditions of filial and ancestral piety.

A Vietnamese proverb referring to our attitude towards the dead goes: Nghia tu la nghia tan (Roughly, death ends hatred). The implication is that once a person is dead, all resentment and hatred should be ignored, and the deceased should be treated in a sympathetic, meaningful manner, especially in the organising of the farewell ceremony.

Hoa’s story attracted lots of sympathy from netizens who said local authorities should act more from the heart and sympathise with the plight of people who’ve lost a loved one, and help them in organising a proper funeral ceremony, instead of causing further trouble. They also criticised the inappropriate attitude of two civil servants, including the Deputy Chairwoman, towards voters.

Prompt response

Once the story went viral, Ha Noi Chairman Nguyen Duc Chung called for an immediate investigation into the citizens’ complaint and accusation of harassment in issuing a death certificate.

Yesterday afternoon, the Deputy Director of the Department of Justice, Pham Thanh Cao, led an inspection team to work with Van Mieu Ward on the case. The inspectors proposed the suspension and cutting off of contracts for the civil servants involved.

The decision on temporary suspension of Ha as deputy chairwoman of Van Mieu Ward was signed by Dong Da District People’s Committee Chairman Nguyen Song Hao the same day. Ha was suspended for three days, starting today, while the inspection was carried out. Hieu was transferred to another position at the ward’s People’s Council. The results of the investigation and final responses have to be reported to the city People’s Committee by Saturday.


The deputy chairwoman of Van Mieu Ward, and all civil servants, would do well to reflect on this priceless insight.   

There are doubtless many positive instances of administrative reforms where procedures and time taken to get certificates and documents have been reduced considerably. But stories like this one eroded the efforts.

The fundamental lesson from this episode is that the best of administrative reforms will fall short if civil servants do not behave with the clear understanding they are there to serve the public, not the other way round.

Improvements in procedures can help, but they cannot deliver public satisfaction on their own. Good, efficient service comes from the heart, and is rooted in humility, friendliness and compassion. 

Hong Minh


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