Lawmakers on November 20 hotly questioned the quality and quantity of public servants during a question-and-answer session with Minister of Home Affairs Nguyen Thai Binh.

Deputies Danh Ut from southern Kien Giang province and Chu Son Ha from Hanoi suggested improving the performance of the public service by getting rid of poor performers.

Binh said that there had been a rise in the number of public employees in recent years, but claimed this had mostly taken place in newly-established agencies or existing agencies developing new functions.

However, he said that from now until 2016, the Government would try and limit the number of public servants by redefining job positions so that they more suitably matched the functions and duties of each agency, locality, ministry and sector.

"The Government has a master reform plan on re-organising the public service. Redundant public servants will be rotated and assigned suitable jobs," he added.

Questioned about public concerns that some 30 percent of public employees failed to carry out their jobs properly, Binh claimed that annual assessments of work performance showed that the figure was only 1 percent.

However, he offered to investigate and define the exact figure and report back to the National Assembly.

Concerning the hiring of public servants, the minister replied that this had been changing towards a computer-based approach to ensure it was done transparently while also improving the quality of employees to meet professional, political, foreign-language and computer-science demands.

"Stricter management before and after the exams has also been carried out to ensure quality recruits are hired," he said.

Binh said that all central-level agencies and 70 percent of local-level agencies would apply information technology in recruiting public servants.

Answering deputies' concerns about overlapping between the functions and duties of agencies and organisations, the minister said the Government would reform and perfect operations at different ministries and sectors to ensure each issue was handled by one agency.

Deputies Pham Van Ho, Chu Son Ha and Truong Thi Anh asked about corruption in hiring public servants and steps to get rid of corrupt officials.

Binh said the ministry had taken steps to stop this issue "of great public concern" in personnel departments, adding that he had proposed the Government issue a decree to stop it - and widely apply it throughout the public service.

He said the Government had regulations making the heads of State agencies responsible for any corruption, adding that strict punishments applied.

The minister said recruitment reform would apply to on-line tests to ensure transparency and justice.

Earlier, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat continued his question-and-answer session with NA deputies that started on November 19, focusing on measures to boost agricultural reform.

Answering deputies' questions on the farm sector's involvement in creating a high-yield rice variety, he said this would also increase the value of the grain.

He said the ministry had guided research programmes to create varieties to boost production, build trademarks and export more products to foreign markets.

Questioned on bank credit policies for agricultural development, Governor of the State Bank of Vietnam Nguyen Van Binh said many policies had been issued to help develop agriculture.

He said the banking sector was reviewing credit policies to help meet the demand for national economic restructuring, including the agricultural sector.

Answering questions on the rice-reserve programme, Binh said the State Bank had provided enough capital for this as well as a large sum for developing other key products, such as coffee, tra and basa fish.

Minister of Information and Communications Nguyen Bac Son was also grilled by deputies about the 3G price hikes in November 20 afternoon.

Son said that the recent increases by Viettel, Mobifone and Vinaphone were necessary because the companies had originally set prices lower than cost to attract users. Telecoms companies last month raised the price of their 3G packages after receiving approval from the ministry.

On October 16, Vinaphone, MobiFone, and Viettel, which hold more than 95 percent of market share, increased their monthly fees from 50,000 VND to 70,000 VND.

"This is the general policy of the State and is in accordance with current regulations and international commitments. We cannot sell below cost," said Son.

"The 3G service always follows the general rule: beginning, growth, saturation and decline. In the initial period, telecoms providers reduced prices to attract users and then gradually increased them. Domestic telecoms providers have kept the price low for too long."

He said the Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung signed Decision N°32 to restructure the telecommunications market. This required prices to rise gradually until they equalled or surpassed costs.

Son added that during the year, Vietnam telecoms rates were 34.9 percent lower than in other ASEAN nations and 34-57 percent lower than in other countries. He claimed the Vietnamese telecoms rate was less than 50 percent of costs.

Vietnam had about 9 million 3G subscribers out of a total of 19 million phone customers.

Son said that 3G rises made a great contribution to the State budget. Last year, Vinaphone and Mobifone contributed 7.3 trillion VND (347 million USD) and Viettel added 11.3 trillion VND (538 million USD) to State coffers.

He said consumers should share the heavy financial burden with network providers as at least 80 percent of telecoms equipment was imported.-VNA