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Deviations from ethical norms of some Vietnamese civil servants and remedial solutions

(PTOJ) - Vietnamese civil servants and public staff have gradually improved to meet the requirements in the new period. However, there are corrupted civil servants in political and ethical terms, having signs of deviations from ethical norms at different levels. After proposing and analyzing a number of fundamental concepts: civil servant, public service, public service ethics, deviations from ethical norms, the article describes the current situation of the deviations in public integrity among some Vietnamese civil servants, thereby proposing some solutions to address these issues.

Civil servants must abide by their professional principles, norms and values - Source: internet

1. Civil service and public service ethics

The term civil service is used in many different fields of science, especially in political science. So far, there has not been a consensus on the meaning of this concept. Based on published scientific research and our research, based on Article 2 of the 2010 Law on Cadres and Civil Servants, we suggest: A civil service is a form of state power which is conducted by state officials and employees in accordance with the law, in order to serve the interests of the people, the society and the State.

Civil service is associated with public servants. Compared to some other countries, the concept of civil service in Vietnam is defined more widely. It is the activity of public servants and the activities of political organizations; socio-political organizations, and other organizations (agencies and units of the People’s Army and the Public Security). This is prescribed in Article 4 of the Law on Cadres and Civil Servants (Law No.: 22/2008/QH12). Therefore in Vietnam, civil servants are the ones who are recruited and appointed to hold certain ranks, positions and titles in the bodies of the Party, the State, socio-political organizations, agencies, military units, police. They receive salaries from the state budget.

Like all other social members, civil servants must abide by the principles, norms and ethical values of the society they live and operate. On the other hand, civil servants must abide by their professional principles, norms and values. Friedrich Engels once stated: “In fact, every class and even every profession has its morality”(1). The professional ethics of civil servants are public service ethics. In general terms, and public service ethics is a system of values, principles, and standards used to adjust and evaluate the conduct of civil servants, to express their conscience, responsibility, and obligations in their implementation to serve the benefit of the people, society, and society State.

2. Standards of public service ethics and the deviations from the ethical norms

Standards of public service ethics (or another word the paradigm of public service ethics) are values, principles that are accurate, socially accepted and used in the assessment, adjustment of consciousness and ethical behavior of civil servants. Public service ethics govern and direct the development of their morality in the course of their official duties.

Standards of public service ethics pertain to historical features, not something that is immutable. Based on the national ethical tradition, on Ho Chi Minh’s thought on morality; Based on a number of documents of the Party, and the State which is directly related to the morality of cadres, party members, civil servants, and public employees (especially the Law on Cadres and Civil servants; Law on Public Officials); Based on the basic principles of the ethics, etc., it is possible to outline some standards of public service ethics for officials and civil servants, including the following basic contents:

Firstly, be loyal to the Party and the nation

This is a foremost important criterion amongst public service ethics, which is the basis for implementing other ethical standards. This moral standard requires cadres and civil servants to be loyal to the Party’s national independence and socialism guidelines. In the conduct and communication between officials and public servants, between civil servants and communities, it is necessary to show the trust in socialist ideals and the determination to follow these ideas. Specifically, in every word and deed when performing public service activities, officials and public employees need to comply with the Party’s guidelines and policies. In performing each civil service activity, the officials need to understand the value of the work brought to the Party, the State, and the people. Failure to grasp this principle will lead to covetous ambition when performing public duties. Faithful to Party and the nation also means being honest at work and daring to take responsibility before the Party, the State, and the people.        

Secondly, the officials need to lead a healthy lifestyle, to be outstanding and diligent cadres and civil servants who have a high sense of responsibility in public service activities

Officials and civil servants are people working in the public authority, so the precondition of a healthy and positive lifestyle must first be expressed in the form of being strictly adherent to the law. Because if not consistently complying with the law, it will lead to acts of abusing their duties and powers, taking advantage of the law’s loopholes for personal gain. 

The healthy and positive lifestyles of cadres and civil servants are also expressed through their professional working styles; their proper communication with citizens, their high sense of responsibility, and their successful completion of the assigned tasks. 

A positive, healthy lifestyle is associated with the basic moral qualities such as cần (assiduousness), kiệm (prudence), liêm chính (integrity), chí công vô tư (righteousness, and impartiality). According to President Ho Chi Minh, “cần” is the first word in the compound adjective “cần cù”, which means being diligent and assiduous to finish the assigned task. “Kiệm” is the second word in the compound adjective “tiết kiệm”, in English, it means being economical and prudent. “Liêm” is the first word in the compound adjective “liêm chính” or “liêm khiết”, in English, it means integrity. “Chính” means that being straightforward, being scrupulous, doing the right thing for the common benefit of many people. “Chí công vô tư” means that to put the interests of society and communities ahead of the individual interests.

Thirdly, civil servants need to be highly cooperative and supportive in performing public duties.

In the performance of official duties, each cadre and civil servant must always serve the community’s interests. Being highly cooperative, the collaborative is the novel principle of morality in modern life, expressed in their attitudes to collaborate and take responsibility in their work, being willing to accomplish any tasks given to them. Each cadre and civil servant must always have a high collective spirit in the performance of official duties, thereby contributing to the cleaning of the Government, making the administrative apparatus effective and efficient to serve the interests and benefits of the people, the society, and the State.

Fourth, civil servants must be altruistic. 

The main task of cadres and civil servants is to work in the bureaucracy to serve the Party, the State, and the people. The purpose of being adherent to the orders from superiors or reaching a consensus at work is to accomplish given tasks. The nature of our State is the socialist State of the people, by the people, for the people. Therefore, civil service is an activity aimed at exercising the power of the people, serving the interests of the people, collecting opinions from the people, and promoting the autonomy of the people. To do this, each cadre and civil servant must understand Ho Chi Minh’s view thoroughly: cadres and civil servants must be genuinely “public servants” and “people’s servants”. All activities of cadres and civil servants (or civil service activities) are ultimately aimed at serving the people: “All benefits are for the people / All power is for the people… The people elect government from communal level to the central level... In short, the power and resources are from the people”(2). What is good for our people must be done at our best; If anything is detrimental to the people, we must avoid it. Wholeheartedly serve the people.

Any violation (either expressed by means of behaviors or constricted in mind), anything that does not follow the socially accepted ethical standards and goes against society’s expectations, is considered a deviation from ethical norms. Accordingly, the deviations from public service ethics are a violation, the departure from the professional, ethical standards, and is contrary to the expectations of society.

After more than 35 years of renovation, Vietnam has achieved many outstanding historical achievements on the path of building socialism and defending the Fatherland. We were bringing our country out of the socio-economic crisis and underdevelopment status, becoming a middle-income country, creating an essential foundation to continue innovating and thriving in the coming years. It is the result of continuous efforts of the Party, the Vietnamese citizen, and the army for the goal of “a prosperous people and a strong, democratic, equitable and civilized country”, and more importantly, the significant contribution of civil servants.

In addition to the achievements that civil servants have made in recent years, the current “state of decline in political ideology, morality, lifestyle”(3)The degradation of political ideology, the deviations from ethical norms in a part of our cadres, party members, civil servants, and officials stem from both objective and subjective causes. The impact from the negative side of the market economy can be considered a profound cause leading to the deviations of public service ethics. Friedrich Engel once wrote: “In the end, all the moral doctrines that have ever existed are the products of the economic situation of society at that time”(4) and “With the changing economic base, all of the massive superstructures is also more or less reversed”(5)

On the one hand, our market economy is guided and dominated by the nature of socialism, guaranteed by a socialist orientation that is appropriate to each stage of development of the country, on the other hand, it operates entirely and complies synchronously with the rules of the market economy, so there will inevitably be negative impacts from the negative side of the market economy. Along with stimulating productivity, the market economy is also the hotbed of many social evils. In some perspectives, it can be said that “there are some aspects of market economy that are antithetical to the nature of socialism. The proclivity of excessive divergence between rich and poor is the cult of money. Because of money, one can trample on morality, dignity...”(6).

The negative impact from the downside of the market economy and globalization is evident. However, the most direct cause lies in the problems of cadres and civil servants. Many of them are irresponsible in conducting the duties, haphazard when doing their given task. In addition to that, the Education of political ideologies remains superficial, therefore, lacks evidence to persuade and motivate cadres and civil servants. In some places, people whose noble acts have not been complemented and those who have made a lot of wrongdoings and mistakes have not been punished and criticized. Democratic principles, the practices of self-criticism, and criticism in many places have both been neglected in implementation and have not been set explicitly as a basis for inspection and supervision. President Ho Chi Minh pointed out that the manifestation of the deviation of public service ethics is: “Words are not followed by action when it comes to democratic practices”, or they say “serve the masses” while doing the contrary to the public interest, contrary to the motto and policies of the Party and the Government”(7). The 13th Party Congress frankly pointed out, regarding implementation organization: “there are also manifestations of “ask - give mechanism”, “term thinking”, “group interests”(8), “corruption, wastefulness in some places is still severe”(9).

3. Solutions to address the situation of deviations from ethical norms in a part of Vietnam’s civil servants today

Firstly, improve the socialist-oriented market economy institutions by significantly enhancing the laws, mechanisms, and policies. This must be considered one of the indispensable solutions that addressed the problem of deviations from the ethical norm in a part of Vietnam civil servants today. 

The 13thParty Congress advocated: “Building and perfecting the institution synchronously to develop a fully socialist-oriented, modern and integrated market economy”(10). Perfecting the socialist-oriented market economy institution, especially the legal system, economic mechanisms, and policies, is considered a necessary measure to overcome the ethical deviation of public service. Market economy institutions focus on all production relations, including ownership, organizational and management, and distribution. The market economy institution also deepens the relationships between businesses and businesses, enterprises with the State, businesses with consumers... Therefore, it is necessary to improve the institution of ownership, ultimately improve institutions for synchronous development of market factors and types of markets, perfect institutions on production management and organization, perfect institutions on product distribution. Besides perfecting the system, Policies and laws are the basis for preventing and overcoming civil service ethical deviations. “Improving the legal system, ensuring synchronism, unification, publicity, and transparency, meeting the requirements of socio-economic development and international integration, creating a great change in awareness and identification of the law to clearly define the functions and tasks of state agencies in order to best serve the people and businesses”(11).

Secondly, strengthening the work of communication and political Education; nurturing desirable qualities and traits within the officials and public servants 

Ethical Education aims to help cadres and civil servants understand their positions, roles, responsibilities, and powers in the State administrative apparatus and socio-political organizations. Thereby, they can rectify the lifestyles, behaviors, attitudes, actions to be in accordance with the ethical standards. As a result, they will be more aware of being self-disciplined, assiduous, frugal, decent, and altruistic. 

Revolutionary morality in general, public service ethics of cadres and civil servants, in particular, do not exist by chance or “out of thin air”. That is the result of the cultivation process, “hard-training day-by-day to reinforce and strengthen the belief. Just as the gem shines brightly after being polished, the gold becomes purer after being refined”(12). In order to train and improve the revolutionary morality in general and the public service ethics in particular, first of all, “Every cadre, every party member must practice self-criticizing, self-reflecting, and self-correcting daily”(13), so the Party will be more transparent; our cadres and officials will become public servants indeed.

Thirdly, strengthening inspection and evaluation of the performance of tasks and cross-checking the powers of officials and public employees, regularly rewarding and disciplining public service activities.

In managing officials and public employees, checking and evaluating cadres’ and civil servants’ capacity and attitudes are the critical step that serves as a basis for other tasks such as promotion, appointment, rotation, commendation, and discipline. In particular, checking and evaluating the performance of tasks and powers of civil servants is necessary to prevent and address the problems of deviations from ethical norms. If there were no checks and balances, one would not know precisely what the cadres and civil servants are doing, and with whom they are working. Based on the examination and evaluation of the performance of tasks and powers of officials and public employees, there must exist some forms of commendation or discipline which should be done in a timely manner to secure an ambiance of fairness. The reason behind this would be that to address the problems of deviations from ethical norms; discipline is the most deterrent and highly effective measure to disabuse officials and public servants. 

A commendation sets someone as an exemplary model for others to take after and encourages cadres and civil servants to perform their roles and duties competently to make more contributions to the Party, the State, and the people. People when they were born - as C. Marx said - “neither do they bring a mirror nor are they a philosopher to say that “I am me”, so people sometimes have to look at others first, just like looking in a mirror to realize who they are”(14). President Ho Chi Minh, in his opinions on the publication of the book “Good people and good deeds” (June 1968), said: “Following the example of good people and good deeds to educate each other is one of the best ways to build the Party, build revolutionary organizations, build new people and new lives”. Therefore, rewarding and setting an example must be an indispensable solution to address the problems of deviations from ethical norms in public service.



(1) K.Marx and F.Engels: Complete Works, vol. 21, National Political Publishing House 2004, p.425

(2) Ho Chi Minh, Complete Works, vol. 6, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2011, p.232.

(3), (8), (9) CPV: Documents of the 13th National Party Congress, vol.II, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2016, pp. 78, 79, 76.

(4) K.Marx and F.Engels: op.cit., vol.20, p.137.

(5) K.Marx and F.Engels: op.cit., vol.13, p.15.

(6) CPV: Document of the Communist Party Congress in the period of reform (Congress VI, VII, VIII, IX), National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2005, p.459.

(7) Ho Chi Minh: op.cit., vol.7, p.176.

(10) CPV: op.cit., vol.I, p.43.

(11) CPV: Document of the 12th National Party Congress, National Political Publishing House, Hanoi, 2016, p.309.

(12) Ho Chi Minh: op.cit., vol.11, p.612

(13) Ho Chi Minh: op.cit., vol.5, p.279

(14) K.Marx and F.Engels:  op.cit., vol.23, p.87.


Institute of Social Sciences and Humanities,

Vinh University

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