How other countries keep civil servants on the straight and narrow

March 26, 2023 | 04:00 pm PT
Dinh Hong Ky Businessman
I recently returned to Montreal and met my close friends, a married Vietnamese couple. Both of them seemed overjoyed when they told me their daughter had become a government employee.

Their reaction took me by surprise. The last time we had met three years ago they proudly told me she was working for Deloitte, one of the Big Four international accounting and professional services firms along with Ernst & Young, KPMG and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Seeing my confusion, they explained that it is very difficult to get a civil servant's job in Canada since the government's goal is to find talented people, and the remunerations are totally worth it.

Besides the high incomes, civil servants are less likely to lose their jobs even during economic downturns, entitled to more days of paid leave annually and higher pensions.

Most importantly, public opinion of civil servants is very positive.

In the case of my friends' daughter, the government signed her up since she had a good academic background and experience of working for a Big Four corporation.

Her job requires her to assess the incomes of millionaires and billionaires to avoid loss of income from tax. The government pays her a high salary but with her competence and experience, she helps the government recover large amounts of taxes.

The responsibilities of civil servants are onerous and they must follow strict regulations. Any wrongdoing will see them lose all benefits and be held accountable. So civil servants in Canada are not easily bribed since the price of a mistake, no matter how small, is huge.

The conversation with my friends reminded me of another story when I was working in the Trade Office at the Vietnamese embassy in Poland.

Back then, following the fall of the Berlin wall, Poland, like other eastern European countries, gradually switched to a market economy, and corruption was rampant and public agencies such as customs and tax could be bribed easily.

However, when I returned to Poland just 10 years later, businesspeople said it was no longer possible to bribe customs and tax officials due to a number of reasons, especially the severe punishment for violation by officials mandated by government leaders.

Poland had introduced an electronic tax filing system called JPK that clearly showed all the activities of all businesses.

For example, an imported shipment would be sealed with an electronic chip on arrival at a port and tracked throughout its journey to customs.

After passing customs, each garment in the shipment would be shown in the business' electronic records until that item is sold. Then the revenue and profit from the sale are recorded for determining income tax down the line.

The business's accountant is required to directly update all this data into the system so that, at any given time, not only the business itself but also tax and customs officials could keep track.

A software system that connects customs, tax authorities and businesses not only helps improve transparency and combat tax evasion and fraud, but also makes it much easier to perform the tax inspection.

The JPK system also helped prevent the once-rampant VAT invoice frauds, and allowed the country to downsize its customs and tax agencies by tens of thousands of people.

In Vietnam, the anti-corruption campaign has been robust in recent years. It has been recognized by Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index.

State workers at the Peoples Committee of Thu Duc City in Ho Chi Minh City, August 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

State workers at the People's Committee of Thu Duc City in Ho Chi Minh City, August 2022. Photo by VnExpress/Quynh Tran

In 2022, Vietnam achieved a score of 42 to rank 77th out of 180 countries and territories.

Just a year earlier it had scored 39 to rank 87th.

Vietnam climbed up the ranking for three straight years from 2020, when it was ranked 104th, thanks mainly to busting major corruption cases.

But to become an honest society, Vietnam needs to have effective measures to prevent petty corruption by officials and civil servants.

The Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index 2021 shows that 40-90% of people applying for or renewing land use rights had to pay bribes in over 40 localities.

The story of Canada, a country with an entrenched market economy, and the example of how to prevent corruption in Poland, a country that switched to a market economy not long ago, just like Vietnam, are worth referring to.

Creating a mechanism where civil servants can do their jobs correctly, have their abilities assessed properly and receive appropriately high salaries is the best way to eliminate any motives for corruption.

*Dinh Hong Ky is the chairman of the management board at CP Secoin.

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
go to top