Giant heroin consignment passes customs: who's to blame?

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A consignment goes through a scanner at Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Ho Chi Minh City / PHOTO: NGOC THO

In a society ruled by law, there is an absolute rule: whenever damage happens to people, to society, and/or to the country, someone must be held responsible for the damage.

A car falls into a sinkhole, killing somebody; a dog with rabies is let free, attacking some passer-by; a bridge collapses, causing fatalities; a bullet is fired, causing deaths or injuries to passers-by; "¦ for all these happenings, someone must take responsibility.

The one exception is in the case of a force majeure.

Since a shipment of 229 kilograms of heroin from Ho Chi Minh City was busted at a Taiwanese airport on November 17, the Vietnamese public has asked the obvious questions: How could the haul be missed by customs officers and scanning systems? And, who will take responsibility?

At a press conference early this week, Tran Ma Thong, deputy chief of the HCMC Customs Department, said the consignment was sent through the "green channel" a category for goods sent by companies with clean records, not subject to customs scrutiny.

After being cleared by customs, the consignment was sent through the scanning system at the airport's aviation security center.

"It is not our responsibility" that the shipment of narcotics was overlooked, Thong said.

But despite this denial, it is unacceptable that the whole customs system failed to detect such a giant shipment of drugs. 

When setting up clearance procedures, customs should have included measures for "risk management" to mitigate risks even among those with clean records.

It's just like how modern stores operate customers are free to choose and try what they like without anyone observing them, but once they cheat or steal anything, they will be caught immediately.

The more you rely on people's self-awareness to operate a system, the more necessary it is to keep tabs on people's behaviors, but in a very sophisticated way.

Except if this scandalous shipment is proved to be a force majeure, someone must be held responsible.

If officers who were on duty that day are not held responsible, then their seniors must be blamed.

If those responsible for implementing clearance procedures are not blamed, then the ones who designed and approved the procedures must be culpable.

If no one at the HCMC Customs Department takes responsibility, someone at Vietnam Customs or the Ministry of Finance, which manages the department, must.

And, taking responsibility means accepting a punishment in accordance with laws or with their conscience by, for instance, resigning from their positions.

That is how state management is supposed to work in a society ruled by law.

If the government fails to do so, people will lose more and more trust in Vietnamese authorities.

By Truong Trong Nghia
(Attorney Truong Trong Nghia is vice chairman of the Vietnam Bar Federation and a legislator representing Ho Chi Minh City)

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