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Exclusive: Vietnam Should Invest In Officials' Soft Skills Says United Nations
Source: http://www.futuregov.asia/articles/2014/jun/13/exclusive-vietnam-should-invest-officials-soft-ski/
Source Date: Friday, June 13, 2014
Focus: ICT for MDGs, Citizen Engagement
Country: Viet Nam
Created: Jun 13, 2014

Vietnam’s public sector most needs to invest in its officials’ people skills due to citizen dissatisfaction, the United Nations has exclusively told FutureGov.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) surveyed nearly 50,000 citizens, and found that the biggest cause of citizens’ unhappiness with government is the way that they are treated by officials.

“What citizens are telling us from our survey is that they would like to see enhancements in the soft skills in their interactions with public officials,” Jairo Acuna-Alfaro, Policy Advisor for Public Administration Reform and Anti-Corruption, UNDP Vietnam, told FutureGov.

“The main driver of [citizen] satisfaction is the level of competence and knowledge that clerks have about procedures, and how they communicate it back to the citizens,” Acuna-Alfaro said. Citizens also shared that “when they experienced disrespectful treatment, their satisfaction dropped considerably,” he added.

This indicates that the next stage of public service reform in Vietnam “is not about capital investment or infrastructure for administrative procedures, but about [training officials’] soft skills,” Acuna-Alfaro argued. Investment in technology has to be complemented with training and development of softer skills, he believes.

He explained that this is caused by Vietnam’s development from a low-income to middle-income country. With this transition, “there has been a lot of infrastructure development and improvement of facilities to access [public] services, and parallel to that overall education has increased”. “The more developed societies become, better educated their citizens are, the more they demand of public administration and services,” Acuna-Alfaro added.

For instance, the survey found that Vietnamese citizens are satisfied with the government’s network of one-stop service centres. “What we’re finding is that accessibility to administrative services is not a major issue. Vietnam has institutionalised the model of one-stop shops that provide services across all 63 provinces,” he said.

So how can government better improve their officials’ soft skills? Acuna-Alfaro suggests that “local officials have to be made accountable for their behaviour”, and there should be “a set of incentives to make sure their behaviour is in line with citizens’ expectations”.

It is also important that the officials have access to clear information, so that “public officials become aware of what their roles and responsibilities are,” he added, including having concrete job descriptions so that officials are clear about their responsibilities when they serve citizens.

Lastly, it is important to get citizen participation through “social feedback mechanisms” so that citizens are able to provide their feedback on public services.

The UNDP Vietnam’s Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI) has captured nearly 50,000 Vietnamese citizens’ feedback on government services and transparency. It is the largest time-series public administration performance tool in the country.

Clarification: This article has been amended to highlight that investment in people skills is not mutually exclusive from investment in technology.

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