In the war on corruption, a simple death penalty is not enough

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We're fighting fire with fire, but should we be using water instead?


Duong Chi Dung, former chairman of state-run Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines), gets death for embezzling VND10 billion / PHOTO COURTESY OF VIETNAM NEWS AGENCY

Communist Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong said at a meeting with voters in Hanoi early this month that Vietnam has never given the death sentences to embezzlers before, except for Tran Du Chau, a military officer, who was executed in 1950 for misappropriating military provisions.

However, since last month four death penalties have been handed down to three state officials and one businessman in two separate corruption cases. But, there are still many questions that need to be answered.

In the latest trial that ended early this week, Duong Chi Dung, former chairman of the state-run Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines), and his subordinate Mai Van Phuc, the company's general director, got the death sentence for embezzling VND10 billion (US$474,000) each.

They had led eight others, most of whom were executives and employees with Vinalines, to purchase an unusable floating deck from Russia in 2008 for $9 million and then invest another $10.5 million into repairing it.

The purchase was estimated to have caused more than VND500 billion ($23.5 million), including port rental and security fees, in losses to the exchequer so far.

The death sentences demonstrated the strictness of Vietnamese law and the government's determination to fight corruption.

However, many people "” including myself can't help but wonder if Dung, Phuc, and their accomplices are the only ones responsible for such heavy losses? Was there anyone else who was allowed to go scot-free? Shouldn't state agencies in charge of managing Vinalines take responsibility as well?

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For such a giant rusty floating dock to make its way to Vietnam, there are lots of procedures to be cleared.

When corruption happens at state-owned companies and corporations, there must be the involvement of state officials. Therefore, to fight corruption thoroughly, it is necessary to clarify the responsibility of related agencies and management officials as well.

And one more thing: it is much better to prevent corruption rather than deal with it after the fact.

Criminals are sentenced to death, but the consequences they cause losses of hundreds or even trillions of dong, and people's trust cannot be restored.

So, the two most important things now are to review the management of state companies, and the management and appointment of people in charge of those companies.

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