In Vietnam, proposed on-the-street traffic fines spark corruption fears

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The Ministry of Public Security wants traffic police to collect fines on the street but experts say it will worsen corruption


Police issue a ticket to a driver in downtown Hanoi. The Ministry of Public Security wants traffic police to collect fines on the spot instead of having them paid later to the Treasury as per current regulations. Photo by Ngoc Thang

Nguyen Van Luc took a bus from Ho Chi Minh City to Dong Thap Province and stayed there for two days last December to complete all procedures necessary to get his driver’s license back from local traffic police.

The driver had been caught speeding in the Mekong Delta province and traffic police told him to return a week later to pay a fine of VND700,000 (US$34) to the Treasury, show them the invoice and take back his driver’s license.

“I spent a total of VND2 million, apart from the fines, for the trip just to pay the fine,” he said. “Moreover, I had to stop working those two days.”

In a move aiming to curb complicated procedures for traffic offenders, the Ministry of Public Security has drafted a circular that allows traffic police to collect fines on the street under certain circumstances.

The draft, being introduced by the ministry for discussion, has attracted fears that it would facilitate corruption.

According to the Law on Handling Administrative Violations, relevant authorities can issue a fine and collect the fine directly for violations worth up to VND250,000 ($11.85) against individuals and VND500,000 against organizations.

In the draft circular, the Ministry of Public Security proposed that traffic police be allowed to collect fines beyond those thresholds for violations that occur not during working hours or occur in remote, border and mountainous areas.

The traffic police would forward the money to the Treasury within 7 days, according to the proposal.

Last year, traffic police issued fines in more than 5.5 million cases, totaling nearly VND3 trillion ($142.3 million) in value.

Red tape

One of the proposal’s authors, who asked to remain anonymous, said current regulations require traffic offenders to conduct too many procedures.

Under current regulations, traffic police keep the driver’s license and/or vehicle registration and issue a fine decision that includes an appointment to return the papers to the drivers. Violators then pay fines at the Treasury, get a receipt and come back to the police station to get back their driver’s license and registration, he said.

“Many drivers are afraid of the procedures and when being pulled over, they oppose the police or flee,” he said.

Nguyen Van Tuyen, director of the Road and Railway Traffic Police Department, said they had carefully considered all options before drafting the circular.

“For example, a driver from Ha Nam caught running a red light Hanoi can pay the fine to the traffic police instead of going around to different agencies,” he was quoted by VnExpress news website as saying.

Tuyen said corruption among traffic police is prompted by drivers who are not willing to follow the Traffic Law and who are too lazy to conduct procedures to pay fines.

Police will step up “many professional measures” to prevent corruption, he said.

Meanwhile, drafters also proposed that drivers who do not have enough money to pay fines directly to the police can chose to follow current procedures.

Nguyen Hoang Hiep, deputy chairman of the National Traffic Safety Committee, supported the proposal: “It’s easier for a traffic offender to pay fines of just a few hundred-thousand dong on the spot than going here and there three or four times for a single violation.”

‘Hot money’

Many experts are concerned that the new regulation would be abused for corruption, especially when as traffic police in Vietnam have been struggling to improve their image.

Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer 2013 found after polling 1,000 people that the Vietnamese police force is considered to be the most corrupt public institution in the country.

According to a 2012 poll published by state inspectors and the World Bank, the Vietnamese public believe that corruption is a national problem and that the traffic police are the worst offenders.

Nguyen Van Hau, deputy chairman of Ho Chi Minh City Jurists’ Association, said there are several problems in the draft circular.

“In reality, people are frustrated with corruption, including among the traffic police. The draft circular is a way of legalizing the current situation of corruption by allowing violators to pay fines on the spot without proposing any supervisory mechanism,” he said.

Hoang, a taxi driver in HCMC’s District 2, said it would be very convenient for traffic offenders to pay fines directly to the traffic police on the street.

“But corruption will be rampant,” he said. “Many drivers will pay a sum that is lower than the fine to the police [who won’t file a report] and go quickly. Meanwhile, the traffic police want to have money. It’s better for both sides.”

Nguyen Ngoc Tuong, an official at the HCMC Traffic Safety Committee, said it would be difficult to supervise traffic police collecting fines on the street with the current system, which is based on human rather than modern technologies.

“Thus, it will be easy for traffic police officers to collude with drivers to receive ‘hot money’,” he said.

Henry Hollinger, a security consultant based in Canada and Vietnam, said that in Canada and most other countries, traffic police are not allowed to collect money from a driver.

“It all comes down to trustworthiness. Unfortunately, police in Vietnam have a very bad reputation,” he told Vietweek. “So this seems good for the public, but will further corruption, which is bad already.”

Other options

Fearing the new regulation would worsen corruption among traffic police, many experts have proposed other solutions to simplify procedures involving traffic offenders.

Hau of the HCMC Jurists’ Association said traffic violators should pay fines at the Treasury. This agency should notify the traffic police who later send the driver’s license and vehicle registration to drivers through the post office.

Dao Vinh Thang, Hanoi’s chief of traffic police, said his agency will urge drafters to propose that the Treasury send its people to accompany traffic police to collect fines.

From another angle, Tran Quang Trung, a lecturer at the HCMC Law University, told Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh City Law) newspaper that complicated procedures are somehow a necessary punishment for traffic offenders.

“Going from here to there to pay fine can be a deterrent for repeat violations,” he said.

FINES FOR COMMON TRAFFIC VIOLATIONS

VIOLATIONS & FINES IN VND

- Excessive speed from 5-under 10 kph: 100,000-200,000

- Excessive speed from 10-20 kph: 500,000- 1 million

- Excessive speed more than 20 kph: 2 million – 3 million

- Driving in prohibited areas, wrong direction: 200,000-400,000

- Non-compliance with traffic lights: 200,000-400,000

- Not carrying DRIVER’S license, registration: 80,000-120,000

- Not owning a DRIVER’S license: 800,000-1.2 million

- Driving motorbike without helmet: 100,000-200,000

- Using phone when driving: 80,000-100,000


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