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New cabinet members make strong statements of intent as they take office


Vietnam's re-elected Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung speaks on behalf of the new cabinet as he is sworn in at the National Assembly in Hanoi on Wednesday (August 3)

"Zero tolerance for corruption."

Newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc minced no words in his first meeting with the press.

Phuc, who takes charge of the 2011-2016 anti-graft campaign, said: "Corruption has its network [which helps it thrive]. My position is that no corrupt officials should be let off, no matter what position they hold."

A central government minister since 2007, Phuc is among four deputy PMs who will take office after the National Assembly, Vietnam's legislature, approved a new cabinet on Wednesday (August 3).

"At the same time, we must make sure we punish the right persons, and not cause any miscarriage of law," he said.

Phuc promised he and other government members would take more time to listen to the people's concerns as they tried to solve long-standing problems traffic congestion, corruption, red tape, degrading infrastructure, and so on.

He said the fight against corruption in previous terms had achieved several significant results, but more effort was necessary.

"There should be more specific regulations, better supervision from the people and broader media coverage."

Asked if he agreed that the corruption cases detected in recent years were petty ones, Phuc answered in the affirmative, adding that corruption in the country stretched from high-ranking to lower-level public servants.

"That's why we need to check the transparency of all state offices," he said.

He felt all government officials should declare their assets and show that they are clean.

"I made a list of properties attached in my résumé submitted to the National Assembly. I mentioned my houses, my land, and my vehicles very clearly," he said.

Another attention-grabbing pronouncement by a newly appointed cabinet member came from Dinh La Thang, the newly-elected transport minister, who said construction of a north-south express railway connecting Hanoi and HCMC will not be launched in the next five years.

In June, after heated debate, the National Assembly emphatically gave the thumbs down to a high-profile US$56-billion express railroad project proposed by the government. Only 37 percent of 427 legislators voted for the project, and nearly 7 percent abstained.

The project envisions shortening travel time on the 1,570-kilometer route to six hours from the current 29 hours, with the first phase completed in 2020 and the second 15 years later. However, many legislators, experts and members of the public have expressed serious concerns over the project's budget and its efficiency.

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"Currently, we don't have suitable conditions to build the express railway," said Thang.

He said his ministry will take immediate action in three focus areas - improving transport infrastructure, tackling gridlocks and reducing traffic accidents.

His statement not to proceed with the express railway project has made headlines on many local newspapers as the proposed project has attracted controversy for several years now.

Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia specialist at the National War College in Washington, said the project might go ahead anyway at a later point, "but it will at least be scrutinized more closely."

"I think with the inflation crisis, it would be a really bad time for the government to do this," he told Thanh Nien Weekly in an email.

Edmund Malesky, an assistant professor at the University of California in San Diego who studies Vietnamese politics, also said the National Assembly did not actually scrap the proposal but instead voted to send it back to the drafter and line ministry for further elaboration.

"Whether the new proposal is successful or not will depend a great deal on the changes that are made in the re-drafting process, the expense of the project, and the details of the plan. Also, it will depend greatly upon how unified the top leadership is on the project," he said.

The new cabinet has four deputy prime ministers, including two who were re-elected, Hoang Trung Hai and Nguyen Thien Nhan. The other two are former finance minister Vu Van Ninh and former head of the Government Office, Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

"The two newcomers appear to be good choices. Vu Van Ninh will bring considerable experience as the former minister of finance. Nguyen Xuan Phuc has worked closely with the prime minister in the past and will be effective because he has the prime minister's confidence," said Carlyle Thayer, a Vietnam expert at the University of New South Wales. "The new team of deputy ministers should be more unified and cohesive than before."

"One-third of the new cabinet are incumbent ministers and their re-election will bring stability to the government," he said.

In his speech after being re-elected, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the major tasks of the central government are to tackle inflation, stabilize the macro-economy and solve production difficulties.

The government will also target social welfare and strive to improve the life of residents, especially the poor, he said.

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