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Checking flattering
Thursday,  1/10/2019, 22:01 

Checking flattering

By Son Nguyen

A big problem in State administration has now been singled out.

For the first time ever, the Government has issued the Official Duty Culture Plan, which in fact is a code of ethics for government officials and civil servants. Among numerous regulations governing the behaviors of State employees, the takeaway is a provision that bans officials from flattering their supervisors out of unrighteous motives. Local media has heaped praise on the new move despite the general perception that such a rule is difficult to enforce, and negative behaviors therein are hard to identify and quantify.

It does not seem there are any urgent circumstances merited by the Prime Minister to issue such a code, but local media says it is the right time to bring up the issue to enhance the cultural environment at the public workplace. Still, a case involving a public car that was sent to the stairs of a plane in the jetliner parking area in Noi Bai International Airport last week to pick up a relative of a high-ranking official serves as a reminder of rampant flattering in the State machinery.

As covered in local media, PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc a fortnight ago issued a decision approving the Official Duty Culture Plan submitted by the Ministry of the Interior, which sets out standards for officials, and civil and public servants at State administrative agencies. The plan covers various topics, including compliance to administrative hierarchy and obedience to superiors’ work orders and assignments among others, but it is the rule banning State employees from flattering their supervisors out of unrighteous motives that steals the limelight.

“This is new and interesting,” says Tuoi Tre. At a time of increased international integration, says the paper, the issuance of the code of conduct in the public administration sector is necessary for building up new working manners for all State workers, from ministerial and provincial agencies to grassroots bodies. The new rule will help check those sycophants in the State machinery that often lavish insincere praises or compliments to their superiors normally to obtain their own interests, which will harm the society’s advancement.

Flattering, say the local media, is diverse in forms beyond verbal ones, and spreads like a plague, hindering the healthy development of the State apparatus and imperiling society.

Phan Quang Anh, a lecturer at Singapore National University, says in an interview with Thanh Nien that flattering can be seen as an indirect signal of weakened leadership, and “needless to say, flattering is harmful, especially if leaders or superiors are not well-balanced.”

While the code of ethics largely relates to State employees rather their superiors, the damages from flattering also rest with leaders at State agencies, according to the lecturer. “A system without a professional leadership or without clear-cut limits for working relationships is inclined to become fertile ground for flattering,” says Anh.

Nguoi Lao Dong says it is the responsibility of leaders to create a cultural environment where flattering can be put in check. “Not all employees want to give excessive praise or compliments to their superiors, but if leaders prefer such oily words, life will be harsh for those frank-natured and outspoken employees,” says the paper. Therefore, the code of ethics can only be enforced if leaders can show their integrity at work, promoting transparency and work efficiency.

There are concerns that it will be difficult to enforce the new code.

“The regulation is correct, but is it feasible?” ponders thethauvanhoa.vn. Even lavish praises and compliments at work are still acceptable if they are meant to psych-up others, but they can become flattery if the people in question have certain unforeseen motives, says the news site.

Pham Duc Thanh Dung, a cultural researcher, says in Tuoi Tre that while the new code contains positive points, especially on flattering, a big question is how to map out solutions to enforce them. “A plan that has been approved should enclose guidance on implementation and sanctions against violators,” he says, wondering how violations are identified in the absence of specific guidelines. “What are flattering with unrighteous motives, what parameters are used to measure flattering, and what are the punitive sanctions?” ponders the researcher.

According to Tuoi Tre, while it is difficult to tell a simple compliment from flattering, it is all the more difficult to say if the soft-soaping comes with unrighteous motives.

Despite such concerns, the code of ethics helps raise people’s awareness of flattering, says thethauvanhoa.vn. “Once it is pinpointed in black and white, we can have hope in the self-respect and awareness of State employees and leaders,” says the news site.

Similarly, Trinh Le Anh, a lecturer at the Hanoi-based University of Social Sciences and Humanities, says the fact that the code has been endorsed by the Government shows that top leaders have seen a major problem in the administration. “I am not quite upbeat about the feasibility of the plan, but I feel happy when high-ranking leaders attend more to cultural issues vital in society,” he is quoted in Tuoi Tre as saying.

The code is seen as a great effort by central authorities to root out negative impacts of flattering at the public workplace, as the rampant development of such practices has eroded the public confidence in the administration.

In fact, numerous acts of flattering at public workplaces have been reported in the local media.

In 2016, many civil servants at the HCMC Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs vacated their office during work hours to attend a “new-home party” hosted by the head of the department, according to Thanh Nien. Earlier, State employees at Vinh Long Province’s Department of Industry and Trade also cut short the work hours to join a party to congratulate the new leader of the department, says the paper, pointing out that all such acts are flattering.

Most recently, many newspapers reported how a public car entered the tarmac of Noi Bai airport to pick up the wife of the Minister of Industry and Trade. It is later found out that the ministry’s Administrative Office abused this aircraft parking area access privilege in a bid to gratify Minister Tran Tuan Anh, who himself had to make a formal apology this Tuesday for the abuse of power at the ministry.

If flattering goes unchecked, degradation of the State machinery is unavoidable, says Tuoi Tre in a commentary. Meanwhile, if it is well-checked, prosperity and integrity in the administration will be improved. By approving the plan, “the Government has weighed in on the danger of flattering” to the State machinery and the society, says the paper.

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