Too much work, not enough people: HCMC's streamlining failure

By Thu Hang   June 16, 2022 | 05:07 pm PT
State workers in several HCMC wards and communes are swamped with work because of a gross mismatch between the number of staff and their workload.

It was past 5 p.m. a day in early June and one could hear the sound of papers being sealed and flipped nonstop at the office of the Vinh Loc A Commune People's Committee in Binh Chanh District.

For Nguyen Thi Nhu An, 35, and many of her colleagues, a new shift had just started.

On Tuesdays and Thursdays, the office remains open until 6:30 p.m. to serve people who are normally occupied during the office's working hours.

The commune receives around 350 administrative records every day, but the office has just 36 people working now.

"Sometimes there are way too many files to handle but we cannot leave them for the next day because there are papers that would expire within three days," An said.

Staff at the office of Vinh Loc A Commune Peoples Committee in Ho Chi Minh Citys Binh Chanh District. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Hang

Staff at the office of Vinh Loc A Commune People's Committee in Ho Chi Minh City's Binh Chanh District in June, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Hang

She said she has never experienced such work pressure before 2021.

Ever since HCMC streamlined its administrative apparatus last January, she has had to take many extra jobs as her team was downsized from 35 to just five members.

"Working overtime or not, it has become really rare for my family to see me home before 6:30 p.m.," said An, adding that she has almost no time for family or herself.

For a pay of more than VND6 million ($258) per month, An works more than 10 hours per day, she said.

With more than 167,000 people, Vinh Loc A is the most populous commune in HCMC. Its population is equal to half of the northern province of Bac Kan Province and equivalent to that of Phu Nhuan District. However, the civil servant payroll assigned for commune has stayed at 36, compared to 1,489 for Bac Kan and 436 for Phu Nhuan.

According to a government decree issued in 2019, HCMC has to cut 2,299 state workers in wards and communes from its payrolls to streamline the system.

The decree tasks each government worker with serving 850 people at the commune/ward level. However, the rate is very different among the 312 wards and communes in the city.

If each staff in Vinh Loc A has to serve 4,600 citizens, those in An Loi Dong Ward of Thu Duc City only serve 43 citizens.

The difficulty facing Vinh Loc A is typical of 48 other wards and communes in HCMC with a population of more than 50,000. That population size is more than three times higher than the standard size set for ward/commune by the National Assembly, Vietnam's parliament.

People wait to get their administrative records done on June 8, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Hang

People wait to get their administrative records done on June 8, 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Thu Hang

Le Van Thinh, former Party chief of Binh Tan, the most populous district in the city, said the Covid-19 outbreak in the city last year showed how dire the situation gets when wards in each district suffer a serious staff shortage.

"During the social distancing period, each ward in the district had to take care of 80,000 citizens but was equipped with just 36 civil servants."

Thinh said Binh Tan has more than 800,000 residents and 10 wards while Binh Thanh District has a population of just 478,000 but is divided into 20 wards.

The population size is different, leading to different amounts of work, but the salary for civil servants at the ward level is the same.

Some state employees have actually quit due to work pressure. The Vinh Loc A administration has just approved the resignations of two staff members who cited personal reasons for their departure.

"They are overloaded with work while the salary remains low. We have nothing to convince them to stay," said an official who wanted to remain unnamed.

Nguyen Thi Hong Tham, deputy director of the HCMC Department of Home Affairs, said the number of state workers in wards and communes is allocated in line with the government's decree on the basis of the classification of administrative units.

However, "the application of the decree is not suitable for localities that are densely populated, large in size, and are undergoing complex, rapid urbanization processes."

HCMC has more than once proposed that the Ministry of Home Affairs issues a special policy for HCMC on civil servants, but all proposals have been turned down. The ministry has said that population was just one of the criteria to classify a locality as a ward or commune and therefore, the city does not have the basis to increase the number of state workers at that level.

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