This is especially true when objectively verifiable quantitative indicators to assess performance in governance and public administration remain limited in the public domain, and when citizen expectations are advancing in step with the country’s new levels of development. This article introduces an innovative tool to measure such important elements and presents findings from the latest and largest governance survey in Vietnam - the Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI) - focusing on three key aspects: (i) national and provincial performance in governance and public administration, (ii) differences in citizen experiences in within provinces, hinting inquality in access to good governance and public services, and (iii) impacts of the tool in motivating better provincial performance.
The Administrative Center of Binh Duong province local administration now gains
more public satisfaction for their administrative procedure reform
__Photo: Duong Chi Dung/VNA
Measuring national performance in governance and public administration
Over the past five years, the Vietnam Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index (PAPI) has captured and reflected the experiences of nearly 50,000 citizens in the country. PAPI is a pioneering initiative that has become the largest time-series national governance and public administration performance monitoring tool in Vietnam exclusively based on citizens experiences. These annual and nationwide iterations of PAPI provide “real-time” data and information on the implementation of complex, yet key governance and public administration processes as Vietnamese citizens experience them.
Overall, the three years of nationwide evidence collected by PAPI displays a great deal of stability and consistency in scores annually. The remarkable consistency in dimension scores in 2013 once again provides reassurance on the robustness of data collection and reliability of the sample frame and methodology.
Further encouragement is gained from the steady improvements in how Vietnamese citizens have experienced governance in interactions with the public administration system since 2011. This is especially so in 2013, with PAPI data confirming that for the second consecutive year, Vietnamese citizens on average experienced more positive interactions with local governments with constant improvements, albeit marginal in some cases, in five out of the six dimensions analysed. “Control of Corruption” is the dimension with the biggest improvement (4.24%) from 2012, followed by “Transparency” (3.40%). “Vertical Accountability” (1.19%), “Public Service Delivery” (0.68%) and “Public Administrative Procedures” (0.32%) were the other dimensions to take small steps forward, while “Participation at Local Levels” (-0.33%) lost ground for a second consecutive year.
Figure 1. PAPI mean scores by dimensions from 2011 to 2013
Looking at the top scoring provinces reveals that scores for “Transparency”, “Vertical Accountability”, “Public Administrative Procedures” and “Public Service Delivery” actually moved up in 2013 compared to 2011. These scoring trends suggest that bottom and top-performing provinces are simultaneously heightening standards of governance and public administration performance.
Overall, the key policy message in 2013 is Vietnamese citizens seem to experience and perceive government efforts to control corruption and improve transparency, with the stability in other dimensions underlining PAPI’s ongoing value and relevance to stakeholders.
While there are other positives to take from PAPI survey findings, such as confirmation that citizens remain optimistic about national and household economic prospects, this economic optimism does not necessarily automatically translate into citizen satisfaction with governance and public administration performance at different government levels.
In fact, the 2013 findings underline a number of key challenges facing national and provincial governments as well as local authorities. Leading issues to be addressed include the need to enhance citizen awareness of grassroots democratic rights and create opportunities to participate effectively in political activities and policy making, encourage direct and effective interactions with citizens, consistently enforce measures to control corruption and improve the quality of public administration and services in step with the society’s development and expectations.
One additional element needed to understand and help analyse the levels of economic optimism is to uncover the most important socio-economic issues for citizens. In 2013, a new question was added to the PAPI survey to explore what worries Vietnamese citizens most. Figure 2 presents the results. Environmental pollution (46%), traffic accidents (44%) and drug abuse (43%) are the most serious socio-economic issues, followed by food hygiene and safety (36%) and corruption (25%). Low scoring issues include health care quality (20%), living costs (19%), employment (16%), income (14%) and education quality (13%). At the disaggregation level, in terms of ethnicity, Kinh citizens are most concerned with environmental issues, drug abuse, food hygiene and corruption than other ethnicities. But, when it comes to living costs, employment and income, non-Kinh citizens are the most concerned (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Most serious socio-economic issues in 2013
From these highlighted socio-economic issues, PAPI places emphasis on corruption and its different manifestations in the public sector. The perception of corruption and incidences of bribery are intrinsically complex phenomena to measure. But, PAPI provides a rigorous approach to measure both in the Vietnamese context. At the national aggregate level, citizens tend to see corruption as better controlled in 2013 than 2011 and 2012. This is evident in the incremental change in the national mean score over the past three years (see Figure 1). However, despite this overall improvement, corruption and bribery in the public sector remain constant in areas and sectors that PAPI measures (see Figure 3).
Figure 3. Perceptions of corruption and bribery in the public sector (2011-2013)
In addition, when asked about corruption and bribery in the public sector, citizens largely agree with statements that bribes are required to receive construction permits (24% in 2013, 22% in 2012 and 16% in 2011), to receive land use rights certificates (LURCs) (30% in 2013, 29% in 2012 and 21% in 2011) and for students to be better taken care of at primary schools (27% in 2013, 10% higher than 2011). To further underline how corruption and bribery remain constant in the public sector, the same proportion of citizens (42% and 40%) agreed with the statement about incidences of bribery at public district hospitals over the past two years, with a similarly consistent response regarding bribes for jobs in the public sector (44% in agreement in both 2012 and 2013). The same percentage of citizens perceived the incidence of public officials diverting state funds for private use (20% in agreement during 2012 and 2013).
As Vietnam progresses on its development stages, expectations on the quality of public administrative services and public services will change. As such, accessibility to such public services becomes less of a concern for citizens, as attention turns to the enhanced capabilities of public service providers. Findings from the three national surveys of PAPI (2011-2013) show that citizens remained largely satisfied with administrative services. At the ground level, access to one-stop shops across the country has been made easier and cheaper for ordinary Vietnamese citizens who want to get legal papers processed at public offices.
Nonetheless, areas of citizens’ concern with the quality of public administrative services now mainly relate to the soft skills of public officials undertaking the administrative work. Regarding certification procedures, when citizens experience disrespectful treatment or unmet deadlines, their satisfaction levels diminish by 36% and 32%, respectively. The reduction in service satisfaction is even more dramatic with the granting construction permits, where disrespectful behaviour lowered satisfaction levels by 78% and perceived incompetence by 51%. For LURC applicants, the biggest turn-offs in 2013 were disrespectful treatment by officials (-69%) and excessive paperwork (-50%). For commune-level administrative procedures, the main reasons for dissatisfaction were unmet deadlines (-51%) and disrespectfulness (-50%).
Similar analysis was conducted to examine drivers of citizen satisfaction towards public primary schools and public healthcare facilities. Findings show that, regarding public primary schools, parents’ satisfaction reduces by 28% when their children’s teacher exhibits poor teaching performance in the classroom, followed by demands for bribes or informal payments (-15%) and irregular feedback mechanisms (-11%). These findings reveal that the main drivers of satisfaction are related to the soft and human relations at schools, rather than hardware or infrastructure aspects like classroom conditions.
A similar pattern is found regarding public district hospital experiences. The key drivers of satisfaction are not necessarily accessibility or capital investment in infrastructure and facilities. Instead, healthy human interactions between patients, their relatives and medical service providers are key. For instance, disrespectfulness eroded patients’ satisfaction levels by 51%, followed by irregular visits by health practitioners (-44%), unreasonable expenses (-43%) as well as bribes and informal payments requests (-33%). Other criteria such as sharing beds with other patients, no electric fans, unreasonable waiting times and recommendations to buy medicines from private pharmacies are of less relevance to district hospital users.
Measuring provincial performance over time
Findings from the 2013 PAPI survey allow an analysis of changes over time at dimensional, sub-dimensional and indicator levels at the provincial level. The analysis is to inform local level policy makers of variations in provincial governance and public administration performance across provinces in order for them to identify good practices, especially from those with similar socio-economic and geographic characteristics, to learn from and adapt to their localities.
Findings from comparison of nationwide PAPI data from 2011-2013 show that, 10 provinces have outperformed the rest of the top tier performers (Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Binh Dinh, Binh Duong, Da Nang, Lang Son, Long An, Nam Dinh, Quang Binh, Thanh Hoa and Ho Chi Minh City). Of interest, fewer provinces have remained anchored in the bottom performing category since 2011 (Cao Bang, Lai Chau, Quang Ninh and Tay Ninh) highlighting a general trend of low scoring provinces improving their performance.
Another trend is reflected in the number of higher scoring provinces in 2013, compared to previous years. In 2011, only four provinces scored more than 40 points (on a scale of 6 to 60 points) in the overall weighted PAPI Index to sit in the top bracket (Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Long An, Quang Binh and Son La). However, in 2012 this number of provinces more than doubled with Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Long An and Quang Binh joined by Binh Dinh, Da Nang, Nam Dinh and Quang Tri. In 2013, these same seven provinces again scored more than 40 points and were joined by Thanh Hoa, Vinh Long and Lang Son as new entries in this top performing group.
At the other end of the scale, there was also dramatic positive upward development. In 2011 a total of 11 provinces scored below 35 points (Binh Thuan, Cao Bang, Ha Giang, Hung Yen, Lai Chau, Lam Dong, Ninh Binh, Phu Yen, Quang Ngai, Tay Ninh and Tra Vinh) and in 2012 this further reduced to just six provinces (Ca Mau, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Khanh Hoa, Tay Ninh and Tra Vinh). But in an eye-catching development in 2013, only Bac Giang province scored below 35 points.
In addition, from this comprehensive analysis in 2013 the central coastal province of Quang Binh emerges as the standout performer as it is the only province present in the top scoring group of all six dimensions. At the other extreme, north-eastern province of Bac Giang has significant room for improvement to lift itself out of the bottom group of all six dimensions.
Exploring the equality of governance and public administration experiences
The PAPI 2013 Report also introduces a special investigation of an insightful, yet under-explored national trend of performance variations actually occurring more within provinces than across them. This new PAPI analysis reveals that citizens often experience governance and public administration very differently within the borders of a province and even a village, let alone the wide differences in citizen experiences with governance and public administration quality across Vietnam.
The key findings are that, in some provinces, the quality of governance is reportedly high and inequality relatively low, indicating that most citizens experience similar levels of satisfaction in interactions with officials and the quality of public services. In other locations, however, citizens have divergent opinions on overall governance quality.
The report highlights four quadrants for analysis. The Northwest quadrant indicates the ideal governance realm, as these localities have high overall governance and low differences in citizen experiences (i.e. lower inequality). In 2013, Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Da Nang, Long An and Vinh Long are standout exemplars. The Northeast quadrant is the second best performer with above average governance, but substantial inequality. Ha Noi, Kien Giang, Lang Son and Tien Giang are in this quadrant as is Quang Binh, but the latter exhibits substantially better governance and lower inequality. Hai Duong also features in this quadrant, but as an outlier with abnormal differences in citizens’ governance experiences as it has an above average governance score, but a high degree of inequality. The third-ranked Southwest quadrant contains provinces with below average governance and low inequality. Administrative performance is not great, but at least citizens have very similar experiences with governance and public administration. Here, mountainous provinces like Dak Lak, Dien Bien and Phu Tho are found. Bac Giang scores the lowest in governance and public administration with little variance in experiences. The worst-case scenario is provinces with low governance and high inequality (the Southeast quadrant), with Binh Phuoc, Ha Nam and Yen Bai consistently in this quadrant throughout the period under investigation. In addition, the south-central coastal province of Quang Ngai exhibits an unusual high level of inequality.
The reasons for this are much more complicated than traditional reasoning, such as rural-urban divides or variations caused by cultural or historical differences across regions, as this inequality cuts across the nation. What can be noted for certain though is women, the poor, ethnic minorities and those without governance connections have a lower opinion of governance quality than fellow citizens, even within the same rural district or village.
This PAPI discovery provides a helpful corrective to the tendency to focus on purely provincial level policy levers to correct governance quality. Moreover, it is a timely reminder that a province’s satisfactory public administration score may simply be the result of less favourable evaluations of local authorities being counter-balanced by other citizens perceiving the same services more favourably.
PAPI’s impact and uses
PAPI provides evidence for policy makers to monitor implementation and redesign policies and interventions where necessary at central and provincial levels. As a policy-monitoring tool, however, PAPI is not a stand-alone source of information and data as its full potential for policy making is achieved when complemented and analysed with other monitoring tools. These tools include, for instance, the annual economic-governance performance index commonly known as the Provincial Competitiveness Index (PCI) by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), the recent government self-assessment Public Administration Reform Index (PAR-Index) by the Ministry of Home Affairs, provincial level public opinion surveys by the Communist Party Ideology and Propaganda Committees along with current and future monitoring mechanisms from the Vietnam Fatherland Front (VFF).
In a short period of time, PAPI has become a valuable policy making tool which is reflected by increasing evidence that information and data provided by PAPI is being used in a meaningful way by a growing number of key stakeholders. In 2013 alone, the number of provincial authorities issuing official statements on PAPI data exponentially increased against the previous two years. To illustrate this point, nine provinces in 2013 are reported as having issued specific policy documents to address strengths and weaknesses identified by PAPI. These provinces are Binh Dinh, Binh Thuan, Ca Mau, Dak Lak, Dak Nong, Dong Thap, Kon Tum, Quang Ngai and Thai Nguyen. Four other provinces, An Giang, Ha Giang, Lao Cai and Phu Yen took the initiative to host provincial diagnostics workshops and comparative analyses.
An additional element of policy responses has been undertaken by the Ho Chi Minh Academy of Politics and Public Administration (HCMA). In its role to provide policy advice to provincial leaders, the HCMA undertook extensive comparative research with 15 provinces to understand drivers and factors influencing provincial performances. In 2013, the HCMA focused its efforts on in-depth action-research in An Giang, Ha Giang and Phu Yen provinces. To further extend PAPI’s reach and influence, it has also been embedded as a regular lecture in the HCMA’s high-level leadership training programme as a means to provide current and future Communist Party and provincial leaders with additional information on citizen experiences of governance and public administration performance.
Beyond the objective of using PAPI findings to generate formal policy responses by provincial authorities, an increasing number of research studies are being conducted using PAPI data. These empirical and policy studies undertaken by Vietnamese and international experts make extensive use of PAPI data to build hypotheses and propose alternative policy options. In addition, PAPI has generated significant international, national and provincial level media coverage, which has fostered ongoing public debate on key issues.
This article has presented a selection of aggregated national level findings and revealed a great deal of consistency across time in many indicators. Furthermore, it has spotlighted areas of progress and exposed gaps in public policy implementation.
Overall, citizens remain optimistic about national and household economic prospects. However, that economic optimism does not necessarily translate into citizen satisfaction with governance and public administration performance at different government levels. The 2013 findings have shown that key challenges for national and provincial governments and authorities are to enhance citizen awareness of grassroots democratic rights and create opportunities to participate effectively in political activities and policy making; to increase direct and effective interactions with citizens; to consistently enforce measures to control corruption; and, to improve actual quality of public administrative and public services, in step with society’s development and expectations.
In addition, the article has shown that there is a great deal of variance in policy implementation than can be accounted for by differences in citizens’ experiences - even when drilling down to village level. This inequality in governance is much greater in some parts of the country than others. Da Nang and Quang Binh shine as provinces that are providing high quality governance to nearly all of their citizens, while Quang Ngai stands out as especially unequal. Also, the analysis found that women, minorities and the poor score their localities significantly worse than others. While interesting, this articles sees potentials for further policy research into the issue of equality and inequality in citizen benefits from good governance and public administration.
PAPI aims to contribute to the ongoing efforts to improve governance and public administration performance at a provincial level in Vietnam. As a rich source of objective data collected using state-of-the-art and scientific methods, PAPI serves as a useful reference point and policy diagnostic tool for policy makers, government leaders, civil society organizations, the media, scholars and international development partners to better understand and respond to the needs of a middle-income Vietnam.- By Jairo Acuña-Alfaro, Edmund J. Malesky, Đặng Ngọc Dinh,
Đặng Hoàng Giang and Đỗ Thanh Huyền