No shortcut to removing corruption, says UN official

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There will be greater expectations on Vietnam following its ratification of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC) and society as a whole will have to rise up and meet the challenge, a UN expert says.

Jairo Acuna Alfaro, the UN Development Program (UNDP) Policy Advisor on Public Administration Reform and Anticorruption, cautioned however, that there are no shortcuts and not much headway can be made against corruption the short term.

He told Thanh Nien Weekly that a four-year project, funded by UNDP and the European Union and launched yesterday, would support the Vietnamese government in monitoring and measuring the performance of implementing both the anti-corruption strategies and as well as the UNCAC.

"While corruption is systemic, certain areas are more vulnerable than others, for example land, construction and infrastructure," Alfaro said.

He said the risk of "fatigue" of the inspectorate system was real if cases were not addressed and dealt with strictly, given the huge caseload.

Authorities must recognize that corruption cannot be stopped by "issuing more normative legal documents" but by implementing them. It should also be realized that this was not the government's fight exclusively, but that the involvement of non-state actors like the media and civil society was key, Alfaro said.

'Ask and give'

Offering and taking bribes is sometimes seen as "normal" and part of everyday life. But this approach hurts the poor who have less resources and money to engage in giving bribes to get things done.

Alfaro said that this has to be tackled in similar fashion as the enforcement of a ban on firecrackers in 1995 and the mandatory use of helmets two years ago.

At the same time, a revised salary structure for public officials that makes them less dependant on informal sources income should be treated as priority.

The publication and random verification of assets declared by people holding public office is a welcome and useful step in the right direction, Alfaro said.

Early lessons

Alfaro said anti-corruption efforts in the education sector are crucial.

The habit of giving envelops to teachers on Teacher's Day (November 20), for instance, encourages the perception that the giving and taking of bribes was acceptable.

The education sector is key because "through the learning experience, people will identify what is honest behavior and what is not." But this is a long term process that needs political will and heavy government involvement, Alfaro stressed.

A failure in this sector means that schools will continue to "transmit a culture of corruption to succeeding generations - undermining all other anti-corruption activities," he added.

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