Strict law enforcement could improve behavior in Vietnam

January 13, 2023 | 03:29 pm PT
Le Ngoc Huy Researcher
I was surprised when my coworkers, who had numerous bad habits, suddenly became civilized and courteous while traveling abroad.

I was thinking about the time when Japanese fans of the 2022 World Cup cleaned up the field after every game. By contrast, it is not difficult to encounter bad behaviors from certain Vietnamese people these days. These include spitting, littering, pushing and shoving, trespassing, breaking traffic laws, allowing pets to defecate in public, smoking and even swearing and fighting in public. These actions have tarnished the Vietnamese reputation abroad and have had far-reaching negative effects on health, safety, the environment, and many other things.

Moreover, there are numerous pressing problems that need immediate attention, including workplace safety, fire prevention, pollution, food safety, and so on. The big question is whether we can eradicate all the harmful behaviors in all of these settings. It's possible, in my opinion, if the public and government work together as a united social system.

Aside from factors like cultural traditions and education (by both parents and schools), these bad behaviors are also partly caused by a lack of regulations that would encourage people to become more civilized and aware of their social manners. To better the situation, two options should be taken into consideration: the rule of law and the rule of virtue. In a society where everyone is required to obey the law, there is the rule of law. And to make people "not dare" to break the law, regulations must be strict and powerful. On the other hand, the rule of virtue exists when morality is the driving force to ensure stability and control within a society. To accomplish this, the administration must be respected and trusted figures in society.

In addition, I think it's important to manage and educate people wisely. It could be national leaders, regular people, organizations, or even artificial intelligence that can help supervise and monitor people's behaviors. If these monitoring options were put into practice, I believe we wouldn't have such inappropriate social manners. Even if some people had the intention to misbehave, it would still be virtually impossible for them to do so because they would be watched and caught. As the saying goes, "it's better to be safe than sorry."

Foreign visitors at Incheon International Airport in South Korea, March 2022. Photo by Reuters

Foreign visitors at Incheon International Airport in South Korea, March 2022. Photo by Reuters

To achieve the greatest effect, the integration of the three mentioned measures must be conscientiously implemented at the highest levels. Specifically, the emphasis should remain on the rule of law, while virtue and wisdom should only be used to make law enforcement easier and more "persuasive," thereby making it easier for people to comply.

Allow me to provide an example. In 2007, my organization arranged a trip to a developed country. The tour guide instructed the entire group: "The citizens of this country have great respect for the King and government officials. They follow the leader's (virtue) example and teachings, so we must be mindful of our words and actions in order to avoid legal violations and possible imprisonment. Misdemeanors such as littering, smoking, spitting, drinking, and starting public brawls are punished severely."

After listening to him, I realized that the fine would be double or even triple our monthly income at the time. Similarly, at the office or in my neighborhood, there are similar regulations, but in practice, very few people choose to comply because they are rarely fined. Even if they were to do so, the amount fined would often be too little to have any actual impact on their behaviors. In some cases, there are even leaders who violate the law, but no one dares to speak up against or fine them.

The question of "how can authorities have control over all the wrong actions taking place everywhere in society?" was frequently asked by members of my group at the time. The guide stated: "They have cameras in public areas. Despite being few in number, police forces do their jobs well, quickly, fairly, and effectively. This is due to the careful selection process and the high enough monthly pay that encourages police’s commitment to their jobs. Additionally, every citizen can serve as a "semi-professional" state employee. They will be rewarded right away with half of the fine imposed on the offender, as well as commended and protected, if they can record or take pictures of any wrongdoing and send them to the authorities. Everywhere we go and everything we do may be watched over, with the only exception being private and personal spaces."

When one of the delegation members mentioned the situation in which people could not afford to pay their fines, the tour guide replied: "Then they would require you to find another violator, or perform community services to make up for the fine." Everyone was silent afterwards because they were convinced by the country's innovative and transparent solutions. In this country, each citizen will be a responsible supervisor.

Indeed, during our group's visit, everyone abided by local regulations and laws. People suddenly became more civilized and polite than usual. There were no bad, unsafe or unhygienic actions. What gives? A few days ago, these same people were exhibiting the same bad habits I’d witnessed them do time and time again when they were still in Vietnam. But now they have undergone a complete transformation. Perhaps, nothing is impossible, so long as the proper measures are taken.

The moral of the story is that the rule of law and morality alone do not guarantee that people will obey the law. More wisdom is needed to prevent people from breaking the law in any way. If the practice is well implemented, we will be able to completely eliminate the "uncivilized" behaviors of certain Vietnamese people.

It is time for the state to be more decisive and strict. We cannot continue our way of education by using these heinous actions as examples, like we have done for the past several decades, because doing so has proven to be ineffective, costly, and time-consuming. In order to implement stricter measures, we need innovations. There must be agreement among all individuals, organizations, and societal leaders. The question is how to make collective decisions that hinge on individual responsibility, and to avoid situations where the individuals make bad decisions, but the collective takes the blame.

Establishing a scientific council in every field will allow experts in those areas to provide feedback to city officials on important or divisive policy decisions. Workplace safety, fire and explosion prevention, food hygiene, and environmental concerns are all in the spotlight as of late because of their potential impact on future generations' economic stability, health, and quality of life. What we need right now is a simultaneous, close, and efficient coordination to tackle all these delays.

*Le Ngoc Huy is a researcher and trainer in labor hygiene and safety.

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