Officials nationwide, especially in the rural areas, have been forcing residents, even the poor, to contribute money to voluntary "society" funds.
Many of the funds are supposed to be optional but residents said they had been "forcibly" told to contribute by local officials.
Ngu Hanh Son District authorities in central Da Nang City have assigned ward-level administrations the task of collecting VND25-40 million (US$1,400-2,250) each for the district's Fund for the Poor this year.
That means each family would have to pay VND15,000, said Khue My Ward official Doan Ngoc Hiep.
But ward resident Nguyen Che said all adults had already been forced to pay VND10,000 a year to the local Veterans' and Martyrs' Fund.
Tran Hung from Hoa Quy Ward said the two funds had cost his family VND60,000.
"[Officials] asked for the funds, so we paid. We don't know which funds really exist or which are not compulsory," said Hung's wife Diep.
There are other funds for disadvantaged children and also fees to join women's associations or farmers' associations, but most locals don't know which are mandatory and which are not.
"There are so many different funds, it's confusing," said Nguyen Thi Hien from Hoa Vang District.
In nearby Quang Nam Province, each family in Dien Ban District's Dien Ngoc Commune is supposed to make a list of all their annual contributions to ensure they've paid them all.
Apart from the funds, commune residents were also told to invest in local construction projects, said resident Hoang Ba Long.
Each local family was asked for VND100,000 in 2006 and 2007 to build a culture house, VND20,000 in 2008 for a museum and possibly VND20,000 this year for a public-address system if a new proposal is approved.
In the south, several residents in Xuan Dinh Commune, Dong Nai Province, said last week that the commune government had asked each family to pay VND500,000 to build a cemetery.
Some residents who didn't pay later went to borrow money from state banks for another purpose. They got the loan but VND500,000 was deducted as a payment to the cemetery fund.
On behalf of the commune People's Committee, representative Nguyen Huu Khang said the deduction aimed to save time collecting the money door to door.
But Khang also said: "Residents are not forced to pay at once but they can pay in installments."
People in Ho Chi Minh City have to pay into around ten different funds every year. But contributions are generally lower in the southern hub as local officials have bowed to pressure from the constant complaints of residents.
Give and take
Residents who said they have been forced to pay into optional funds also said they have not been given receipts, nor any guarantees of how the funds would be used.
Resident Pham Van Duc in the Mekong Delta's Tien Giang Province said he had been constantly asked to put his own money into "construction funds."
"But the street in front of my house is nothing but a mud path," he said. "I've got no idea where the money has gone and when they'll stop asking me to pay."
Another province local, identified only as N.T.X., said he used to pay whenever asked. But he said he no longer intended to pay "because I have no idea what my money has been used for."
Rural residents in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho and provinces of An Giang and Kien Giang said they were still contributing to local security and natural disaster funds without knowing that those funds had been officially discontinued.
No one spared
Tran Van Hong's family in Tan Hiep Town, Kien Giang, is officially poor, according to government standards, but has not been exempted from any of the aforementioned funds.
Tan Hiep resident Nguyen Thi Thu said "the officials say they're ââ‚¬Ëœcampaigning' for the money, but actually they insist on it."
There are times residents are called to the hamlet office and only let go after they promise to pay in writing, Thu said.
Thu is a war veteran, her family has a government poverty certificate and no land, but she's still forced to chip in to the optional funds every year.
In a recent interview with Tuoi Tre, Thu said she was given a list of all the funds in March but had not figured out how she'll pay them all.
"I don't want to be in debt to the government, but I'm too poor."
Tran Van Man, also classified as below the poverty line by a government census, will have to scrape by to find VND155,000 for all the funds this year.
Man works as a hired laborer and fishes at night for some VND85,000 a day to feed his family.
"The district officials don't care about us. They collect random funds every year.
"They say they're only asking for the money, but if we don't pay, they keep visiting again and again."
Tran Ngoc Hung from Tan Hiep Town of the Mekong Delta Kien Giang Province was disabled in the war. Though he's been exempt from a couple of funds, he still has to pay VND80,000 a year into other funds.
The amount had been reduced in recent years, Hung said, "but to large, poor families like mine, it hurts anytime we have to pay for an extra expense."
A Tien Giang Province local, identified only as D.V.L., said local tax officials visited him earlier this month to ask for a VND334,000 contribution to various "society" funds.
"They came when my three children were sick. My family was miserable at the time but I still had to find the money to pay them."
It doesn't stop there
Residents complain that the funds are only one of the many conduits through which they lose money to local officials.
A Can Tho local named Thi said families seeking bank loans had to pay around 0.1 percent of the loan value in order to obtain approval from the commune People's Committee.
Mekong Delta farmers are taxed VND300,000 a year on every plough machine or harvester they own.
Farmer Nguyen Thanh Quang from Can Tho said he was asked for a VND100,000-200,000 "toll" when he ran his two combine harvesters to every commune of Vinh Thanh District outside the city center.
"The officials who extracted the toll failed to give me a receipt and did not note my payment down."