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New decree may make it more difficult for government officials to make false declarations about their personal properties

Voters read National Assembly candidates' biographies at a polling station set up at a temple in downtown Hanoi in May. A new decree on assets declarations taking effect September 30 carries tougher punishments for violating regulations related to declaring their personal assets.

In Vietnam, government officials own many properties not listed in their asset declarations because they are actually registered in the names of their young children, a senior government inspector has said.

"We should propose measures to fix this loophole soon," said Tran Duc Luong, deputy chief of the Government Inspectorate, on the sidelines of the Vietnam Anti-Corruption Initiative (VACI) 2011 seminar on Wednesday (August 17) in Hanoi.

He welcomed Decree 68, set to take effect on September 30, saying it contains tougher punishments for violations, ranging from reduced salaries to demotion. The new decree updates the one issued in 2007 on asset declaration by state employees.

"A provincial official told me he could not handle a district official who refused to declare his assets, because of the lack of strict disciplinary measures," he said.

Luong said the new decree requires government officials to publicly display or announce their assets in the offices where they work. This is a measure that is likely to be more effective, he said.

Government officials should also declare properties outside Vietnam that are valued at VND50 million (US$2,406) or higher, he said.

Earlier, at the launch of VACI 2011 on Tuesday, Luong said corruption was "still a serious problem in general," despite significant progress made in policymaking and implementation.

"Corruption is still an irritant, a major concern for society and a threat to the survival of the regime," he said, adding that society as a whole should engage in the anti-corruption fight, not just governmental agencies.

During VACI 2011, jointly held by the Government Inspectorate and the World Bank, organizers selected 34 of 160 anti-corruption initiatives proposed that will receive an award of VND290 million ($14,000) each for their implementation.

Among the initiatives is one that focuses on encouraging people to say no to the "envelope culture" in the medical sector. It was proposed by the Hanoi-based NGO Research and Training Center for Community Development (RTCCD), which conducted a survey that found 85 percent of respondents believe corruption is rampant at central medical facilities.

As many as 73 percent of medical workers who responded to the survey admitted that they have indulged in behavior that violated medical ethical norms. One in ten said they committed the violations on a regular basis.

Other initiatives proposed action against corruption in agriculture, education, government agencies and many other sectors and institutions.

Challenges ahead

Luong said VACI 2011 reaffirmed the determination of the Party, the government and Vietnamese people to fight corruption, but conceded significant challenges lay ahead.

For instance, the Vietnam Youth Integrity Survey (YIS), carried out by Towards Transparency - the official national contact of Transparency International (TI) in Vietnam and the Hanoi-based think tank Center for Community Support and Development Studies (CECODES), found a significant proportion of Vietnamese youth willing to compromise integrity for their own benefit.

By interviewing 1,022 young people between 15-30 years old, randomly selected from 11 provinces and cities across Vietnam, and a control group of 519 "adults" over 30 years old, the survey explored Vietnamese youth's values and attitudes toward integrity as well as their experiences and behavior in relation to corruption.

It found a majority of young people agree that being honest is more important than being rich or increasing their income (95 percent), and that a lack of integrity (including corruption) would be very harmful to their generation, the economy and the development of the country (83-86 percent).

However, around one-third of the youth were also ready to relax their definition of integrity when it was financially advantageous for them, or if it would help solve a problem, or the amount of bribes changing hands was small. Sixteen percent were ready to break the law for the sake of their family and friends.

"This finding shows a need to enhance integrity education among the youth so as to ensure anti-corruption achievements in the country are sustained," said CECODES's director Dang Ngoc Dinh.

According to the survey, in the past 12 months, around one third of youth have "experienced" corruption in situations related to healthcare, dealing with traffic cops and trying to get more business for their company, a significantly higher proportion than adults (around one fourth).

The survey also found youth living in urban areas experienced much more corruption than those living in rural areas.

"Thirty two percent of urban youth made "˜informal' payments and 43 percent gave money to avoid a police fine, compared to 17 percent and 32 percent in rural areas, respectively," according to the survey.

Around 40 percent of the respondents said they were either not sure or would not report a corrupt act. Among 60 percent of those who said they would report an incidence of corruption, only four percent had actually done so.

"The main reasons for youth not to report corruption are indifference and pessimism," the survey found.

"The findings consequently indicate that anti-corruption education remains unsuccessful in developing a generation of youth ready and equipped to fight corruption," said Nguyen Thi Kieu Vien, Executive Director of Towards Transparency.

 "We do hope that the"¦ findings will contribute to increasing public awareness about the issue of youth and anti-corruption on the one hand, and to adopting and implementing anti-corruption policies, initiatives and programs for Vietnamese youth on the other," she said.

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