Vietnam's anti-corruption mechanism has failed due to a lack of public assistance, officials said.
Tran Duc Luong, deputy head of the State Inspection Unit, said that Vietnam's legal framework for pursuing corruption is rather thorough.
In reality, however, little action ever gets taken, particularly in terms of recovering assets.
Luong made his comments at a roundtable discussion on Vietnam’s corruption fight held by the Government Inspectorate and the UK embassy on Tuesday in preparation for Vietnam’s dialogue with donors next month.
Nationwide, only VND1.5 trillion (US$70.6 million) or 22.3 percent of stolen public funds have been recovered, so far, this year.
The figure was calculated as a factor of the total assets pursued by Vietnam's prosecutors.
Truong Minh Manh, deputy head of the the Supreme People’s Procuracy's anti-corruption unit, said nearly VND5 trillion ($235.3 million) was recovered between October 2010 and May of last year -- a period when VND17 trillion ($800.02 million) was lost to corruption cases discovered during the same period.
Manh said investigators sometimes fail to determine where embezzled funds went. In other cases, the money has been spent or squirreled away before they can act.
Nguyen Thanh Tu, deputy head of the international law unit at the Ministry of Justice, said corrupt officials routinely hide their ill-gotten gains in others' names, launder it in legitimate businesses or use it to purchase cars and houses.
But Tu said the Criminal Prosecution Code has not specified the procedures and authority in recovering corrupted valuables.
Related officials can hardly perform their job, he said.
Tiger without teeth
During a meeting in Hanoi last Tuesday, Jairo Acuña-Alfaro, policy adviser for public administration reform and anti-corruption at the United Nations Development Program in Vietnam, called the country's anti-corruption laws a tiger without teeth.
He said the laws do not deter corruption in any practical sense and critciized the way the system works.
The system suffers from several “bottlenecks,” he said, pointing to too many anti-corruption agencies with overlapping or vague duties at government and Party offices.
Each agency lacks supervisory checks from within and without, he said.
A representative from the Swiss embassy in Hanoi also said the system is confusing because it involves too many agencies.
The diplomat said a single, independent agency needs to take primary responsibility for keeping things clean.
Chris Batt, a World Bank adviser, suggested that Vietnam create a single agency and task it with recovering stolen funds and assets.
Foreign advisers at the meeting urged Vietnam's government to encourage public participation in the fight on corruption.
Acuña-Alfaro presented a new survey that showed 89 percent of respondents in Vietnam were unwilling to expose an official for attempting to solicit a bribe.
Only 8 percent said they were willing to do so.
He suggested that those employed at the country's anti-corruption agencies lack confidence or conviction to properly achieve their objectives.
The World Bank representative said that a joint-survey prepared with Vietnam’s state inspectors in 2012 revealed that over half of the respondents would not expose corruption for fear of revenge.
They also expressed a belief that any accusation they might make would be dismissed as unserious and motivated by ulterior motives.
Few people chose to expose corruption in an effort to secure rewards.
Whistleblowers are currently awarded the equivalent of 20, 40, or 60 times the minimum wage of VND1.15 million ($54) per month -- the salary paid to members of the Party, government and military.
In August, the State Inspectorate and the Ministry of Interior recommended that whistleblowers who help recover cash and assets worth more than 600 times the basic wage receive up to 10 percent of the value of the recovered assets and no more than VND5 billion ($236,000).