Vietnam World Bank projects blighted by corruption

By Ngan Anh, Thanh Nien News

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The Cat Linh-Ha Dong railroad is part of the Hanoi urban railway project funded by Japanese ODA. Photo: Ngoc Thang The Cat Linh-Ha Dong railroad is part of the Hanoi urban railway project funded by Japanese ODA. Photo: Ngoc Thang


Vietnam is 2nd on the list of World Bank clients against whom there are corruption complaints, with the transport, information communication and technology, and water sectors being the biggest offenders.
With 189 complaints, Vietnam is behind only India with 308, bank official Anders Hjorth Agerskov said at a workshop on strengthening governance for accelerated development in Vietnam in Hanoi Tuesday.
The agriculture and energy sectors have also seen lots of complaints, he said, adding that while the World Bank’s assessment may yet be an underestimation of the problem, it is something to ponder over.
Conchita Carpio Morales, ombudsman of the Philippines, said corruption is the enemy of development and good governance.
She called on governments and people to intensify the fight against corruption.
Developing countries lose $20-40 billion a year to bribery, embezzlement and corruption, she said.
Tran Duc Luong, deputy inspector general of the Government Inspectorate, admitted there is corruption in ODA and public projects in Vietnam.
Vietnam has received around $80 billion in ODA funds in the past 30 years, with a large portion being allocated to infrastructure projects related to transport, seaports, airports, and urban development, he said.
They are often large projects with complex technical aspects and long implementation periods involving various stakeholders, and so fraud and corruption could occur easily, he said.
But the incidents of fraud and corruption detected and addressed in the past do not reflect the extent of the problem, he admitted.
He cited the Ministry of Transport’s Project Management Unit No. 18 (PMU18) corruption scam in 2005, the East-West Highway (PCI) bribery case in 2008, and the most recent case of the Urban Railway Project in Hanoi (JTC), which is under investigation.
In all three cases, the corruption was not detected by the agency in charge of the projects or public agencies administering ODA funds, but by the foreign media in the PCI and JTC case and through another crime (football betting) in the case of PMU18, he said.
“Combating fraud and corruption in this area is still a big challenge, requiring much effort in the coming time.”
Explaining why fraud and corruption cannot be eliminated in ODA-funded projects, he said: “Some people still think that ODA funds are grants. As a result, provinces, ministries and sectors often give top priority to getting ODA approved without paying attention to the effective use of the funds.”
He also blamed some provincial and ministry officials, saying, “It may be the rightist deviationist opinion that when fraud or corruption in the use of ODA funds are detected, the diplomatic relationship and cooperation at the national level between Vietnam and ODA donors might be undermined.”
Besides, the fact that under ODA rules, when fraud or corruption is detected, the funds used improperly shall be recovered and returned to the donors “might affect the view of the leaders of public bodies when they monitor, inspect and audit funds and tackle violations,” Luong said.
“It is necessary to change awareness about ODA at the ministerial and provincial levels so that ODA is not perceived as a ‘grant’ or ‘I don’t have to worry about returning that loan in my life’, which leads to an ‘ODA lobby’ pushing for implementation of unnecessary projects and neglect in monitoring project implementation.”
Openness and transparency in the management of ODA projects should be strengthened from the stage of appraisal and approval to monitoring, inspection, and investigation and tackling of violations, he stressed.

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