Party chief laments eroding morality

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Warns the lack of rectitude among Party members threatens political system

Pedestrians and traffic pass down a street which is decorated with national flags and banners celebrating the Party Congress in
Hanoi last January. Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong has admitted that morality is eroding among Party members.

Vietnam's top leader has admitted that morality is eroding among Party members, chipping away at public trust and threatening the very political system.

Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong told delegates at the opening of a Party Central Committee meeting Monday (December 26) that bureaucracy, corruption, wastefulness, social vices, and degradation in morality and lifestyle are "only getting worse, eroding public confidence in the Party."

Pham The Duyet, the Party's former de facto number two, acknowledged such degradation has taken place even at high levels.

"People's eyes are discerning and they can see it all," Duyet was quoted by Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper as saying Wednesday.

The meeting was held in the wake of a series of scandals involving Party members, which has had the nation riveted and demoralized.

The most recent case unraveled with betting which is illegal in Vietnam on Chinese chess games, but led to the arrest this week of two transport officials in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang after they were found having gambled away billions of dong.

In the same province, a senior judge was fired earlier this month after being caught sharing a hammock in an unlit tent at a local garden café with a married woman subordinate.

In Ca Mau Province, another senior judge was dismissed last month for having an affair with the wife of a local man.

In September two district prosecutors in Long An Province got the axe for alleged involvement in a drinking party on a barge along a local river that led to the suspicious death of one of the five women who joined them.

This spate of scandals was serious enough for Trong to use strong words when he spoke of a threat to the system.

"The prevention and fight against the decline in ideology, moral quality, and lifestyle is the most crucial and urgent task," he said.

"We are well aware that it will be an uphill battle, but we cannot just give up because it is relevant to the survival of the Party and the system."

The question after Trong spoke, among both local and foreign analysts, was whether it was a new development in Vietnam.

"The Party has been pinpointing the degradation in morals and lifestyle among Party members for a long time now," Carl Thayer, an Australia-based Vietnam specialist, said.

"This is not a new issue.

 "If we cast our minds back to the period before the 10th party congress, senior Party officials were identifying corruption as a major threat to the"¦ Party."

At the congress in 2006, Trong's predecessor Nong Duc Manh, besides acknowledging the decline in morality and lifestyle, pointed out that "bureaucracy, corruption, and wastefulness by cadres and civil servants were serious."

Also that year General Vo Nguyen Giap, architect of Vietnam's historic military victories over French colonialism and American imperialism, said in a widely quoted comment that "The Party has become a shield for corrupt officials."

Vietnam's Corruption Perceptions Index has improved four spots from last year, ranking 112 out of 183 nations surveyed, according to Transparency International.

Thayer said Trong's acknowledgment of the importance of this issue is "a continuation of past campaigns by the Party to eliminate this evil."

"The [Party] must continually renew itself by dismissing and disciplining members who fail to reach the Party's ethical standards.

"It is only by campaigns of this nature that the Party can win the trust of the people."

"˜Corruption crusader'

But authorities do not seem to have the confidence of the public whose trust seems to lie elsewhere, in people like Le Hien Duc, 81, an anti-corruption campaigner and whistleblower who won Transparency International's Integrity Award in 2007.

Duc, who used to work as a message decoder for revered founding father Ho Chi Minh, has spent her retirement receiving complaints from people all over the country. She says she receives at least 10 petitions daily from disgruntled residents.

A Reuters story in June called her "Vietnam's best known corruption crusader."

She has been forwarding petitions to the authorities demanding justice, sometimes insisting that they meet her.

She has taken on school officials who short-changed children on their lunch, a water company that charged residents for renovations it never carried out, and once called a minister 30 times to pursue a complaint.

"We consider her our savior who could help take our grievances to high places," a resident whose land was taken away for a public project said on condition of anonymity.

Duc vows to "continue fighting for the sake of poor people and their justice."

"It's a pity that I have no authority, and no position in any administration," she says. "But that will not prevent me from standing by needy people in search of justice."

The bottom line, according to analysts, is that it reflects the desperate situation of disaffected people.

"Whistleblowers are essential, though I agree they can cross a line," Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia specialist at the National War College in Washington, says.

"But that people rely on them is indicative that they feel they have no other legal recourse."

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