Retired Minister of Transportation Ho Nghia Dung has left the board of a company that invested in a public tunnel project in Central Vietnam after the timing of his shift into the private sector created an appearance of impropriety.
Ho Minh Hoang, general director of the Ca Pass Investment JSC, told Tuoi Tre newspaper on Wednesday that a meeting had been called and an agreement reached--Dung will leave the company’s board.
It remains unclear, however, whether the former public official will stop working with the joint-stock company altogether.
Dung had initially described his position with the company as "only consulting."
The company is building, managing, and developing a VND14.9 trillion (US$703.28 million) tunnel through Ca Pass which links Phu Yen and Khanh Hoa provinces in central Vietnam.
Dung served as the nation's Minister of Transportation between June 2006 and August 2011. During his term, he personally approved the tunnel project's proposal and oversaw its investor selection process.
The project began more than three years ago.
Hoang said they asked Dung to join the board as an independent advisor who did not own company shares.
He said his company has recruited other experts as well, including Dr Tran Chung, former head of the Construction Ministry’s Quality Inspection Department.
The company volunteered that information and no one has spoken yet with Chung about the timing of his retirement and hiring.
However, Hoang said the former officials all took jobs with the company “out of passion and the desire to contribute wisdom and experience rather than to personally profit."
The controversy began when a Tuoi Tre reporter confronted Dung last week.
The retired minister admitted to joining the company eight months after his term ended--a violation of public laws on transportation officials.
The newspaper cited a decision by the company’s shareholders which added the 64-year-old to its board in April 2012.
Vietnamese law prohibits former officials from investing in sectors they once supervised for a certain period of time after they leave their post.
The so-called “cooling off” period for officials at the transportation ministry is between 12 and 18 months.
But the rules don't specify a punishment for those who violate them.
A company press release quoted Hoang as saying that the firm hadn't carefully studied conflict of interest rules before recruiting Dung.
“We sincerely accept our mistake and apologize to those affected,” he said.
Several government officials have referred to Dung’s situation as a classic example of conflict of interest.
Nguyen Dinh Huong, former deputy head of the Central Organization Committee which serves as the advisor for the central government and Communist Party on personnel matters, said that although members of the public expect officials to continue contributing to society in their retirement, one can’t be expected to contribute by taking a job with a company one once supervised.
Huong described that kind of “contribution” as nest building--by which one “creates relationships during their official term to ensure a safe landing after retirement.”
Nguyen Sy Cuong, a member of the Legal Committee of the National Assembly, told Tuoi Tre Vietnam needs to amend its laws so that retired public officials must wait longer before taking jobs in sectors they once oversaw.
Cuong said stronger rules and regulations are necessary to preventing “dangerous” transitions from the public to private sector.