In the southern Vietnamese province of Dong Thap, a government official is closing the distance between businesses and bureaucracy.
At 6:30 am one morning, a dark, gloomy sky signaled impending rain.
Nguyen Van Duong, chairman of the Dong Thap People’s Committee, walked from his office to the ‘Chairman’s Café’ nearby.
A few minutes later, other officials showed up.
Duong looked at his watch: “It’s about to rain. I don’t think anyone’s coming today.” Waiting patiently, he occupied himself with the myriad documents open on his computer.
Duong is a busy man, but he never lets his hectic work schedule stop him from keeping in touch with his constituents.
A few moments later, a black car arrived. Ta Thu Thuy, a company director in Dong Thap, stepped into the café and shook the officials’ hands as she greeted them.
“I heard that something’s bothering you,” Duong said, breaking the silence.
“Yes, my company has received an official dispatch from the tax department informing us that we have been fined VND200 million [US$8,968] for late tax submission. Our rice-exporting business is struggling, and with this tax, we’re doomed. I hope you can help me with this,” Thuy said, hesitating.
“From what I know, as an agricultural company, you’re granted some investment incentives. Have you been benefiting from any of those?” Duong asked.
“We have not,” Thuy answered.
Duong turned to the officials from the tax department sitting next to him and discussed the matter with them for a few minutes.
“We have reconsidered the matter and see that you didn’t do anything wrong, so we’ve decided not to fine you. Additionally, people from the tax department will go to your company today to guide you through the process of applying for investment incentives,” Duong told Thuy.
A few days after the meeting, Thuy received an official dispatch from the People’s Committee ratifying her company’s request for help. She has since not only avoided the VND200 million fine, but also gained VND1 billion ($44,840) in investment incentives.
Nguyen Van Duong (L, white shirt) addresses businesses at a meeting in Dong Thap Province, located in southern Vietnam. Photo: Tuoi Tre
“During the meeting with chairman Duong, I told him that I was late for the ferry and almost missed the meeting. Three days later, a priority ferry pass was sent to me. Rarely do you see a leader so attentive to the needs of businesses,” Thuy said.
No more bureaucratic procedures
Companies in Dong Thap have affectionately nicknamed the venue ‘Chairman’s Café,’ after Nguyen Van Duong came up with the idea to open the café in order to solve the issues faced by the firms without the usual snail-paced bureaucratic procedures.
Duong revealed that Dong Thap previously handled cases according to normal procedures. Companies would send a document to the People’s Committee, then the committee would transfer the case to the appropriate department or office.
This procedure would sometimes take more than three months, costing companies precious business opportunities and, in some cases, causing them to sink deeper into crises.
“Some said that they have lost faith in the government. I felt sorry about that,” Duong confessed.
At the beginning of 2016, Duong ordered a few stone tables and some bonsai pots to be placed next to the dining room of the People’s Committee office so that he could talk to companies in the morning, before trips and meetings.
He formed a new department to assist companies with their difficulties and ordered the Public Relations Department to receive corporate registration forms for daily meetings with himself and provincial leaders. These meetings begin at 6:30 am at the ‘Chairman’s Café.’
Questions and grievances can be sent by companies ahead of the meetings so that Duong can consult other departments beforehand and settle the issues later.
In the last six months, dozens of companies have signed up to meet Duong, not only to share their problems, but also to show him their ideas for the development of Dong Thap.
Many problems that would have previously taken months to resolve are now solved in the blink of an eye at the ‘Chairman’s Café.’
“Dong Thap is a relatively poor province. It needs help from companies in order to develop. We need to encourage companies to invest and to build a reputation for ourselves as a place to start a business. It already takes a long time to arrive in this remote place. If we force companies to follow procedures and guidelines like other places, who will ever come here?” Duong remarked.