Autonomy of Public Service Delivery Units in Vietnam: An Institutional Perspective
Intrigued by the burgeoning commercialisation of public services in Vietnam, this research seeks to understand the nature of autonomy that public service delivery units have been given as part of the greater effort of the Government of Vietnam to separate business and service provision from state management. In addressing this objective, the research bases its analysis on historical institutionalism and sociological institutionalism that illuminate insights into institutional factors shaping the autonomy policies and the implementation of the policies in practice. The main data sources the research draws on are legal documents, government reports and in-depth interviews with managers and staff of public service delivery units. The research findings illustrate that autonomy is very limited in many aspects of management because the autonomy reforms are largely influenced by the socialist-oriented market path dependence. Amidst the exhaustion of resources and legitimacy due to the regime’s flawed economic structure and inherent problems of cronyism and corruption, autonomy is utilized primarily as a strategic instrument to mobilize resources indispensable for the socialist survival. This policy direction creates incentives for the various forms of rent-seeking and corrupt behaviour among public service delivery units, occasioning the rapid and aggressive commercialization of public services. While the root of these problems lies in the intent of the policies, these problems are further nurtured by historical and cultural factors, and seriously compounded by the absence of an effective regulatory and accountability system and the lack of political commitment to fight corruption from the top leaders. The research addresses the gap in the academic literature by offering an illuminating insight into the nature of autonomy of a country context and demonstrating the merit of converging historical institutionalism and sociological institutionalism for the study of public policies. The research’s significant contribution to policy-making is that it highlights the need to build institutions to fit in well with the reform ideas, especially when such ideas are borrowed or transferred from advanced countries with well-developed institutional foundations.