Survey pinpoints Vietnam's most corrupt sectors

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Traffic police, land administration, construction and customs are the biggest violators according to citizens, enterprises and public officials

Motorists wait at an intersection in Hanoi. A recent report found that traffic police is the most corrupt institution in Vietnam.

In response to a recent report ranking traffic police as the most corrupt institution in Vietnam, Dung a retired traffic police in Ho Chi Minh City said people should think first about their own willingness to abide by the Traffic Law.

"Many people do not care about breaching the law because they think they can avoid strict punishment by giving the traffic police some "˜money for a drink,'" he told Vietweek.

"Others have relations with influential people that can help them go scot-free by just calling the police officer that pulls them over."

Dung said some young traffic police may become corrupt because they are undisciplined and their salaries are too low, between VND3million-VND5 million (US$144-$240) a month.

According to the report, Corruption from the Perspectives of Citizens, Enterprises and Public Officials, released by the World Bank and the Government Inspectorate on November 20, the top four

most corrupt sectors in Vietnam are the traffic police, land administration, construction and customs.

More than 75 percent of respondents from all three groups say corruption is commonplace within these sectors, according to the study that interviewed 2,601 residents, 1,058 firms and 1,801 public officials.

The most corrupt sectors differed only in order from the results of the 2005 Anticorruption Diagnostic Survey.

In the 2005 survey, the most corrupt sectors were land administration, customs, traffic police, and construction.

Victoria Kwakwa, country director of the World Bank in Vietnam said the report "shines a light" on some "basic questions too often left to guess-work and anecdote," such as: Why is corruption so widespread? Why it is so difficult to eradicate? Of the many measures that have been introduced, which ones are succeeding and which ones are failing?


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"Trying to address challenges such as traffic safety, education, health, and environmental degradation without also addressing the corruption that undermines the fairness and efficiency of those systems is like trying to grow trees while ignoring the disease that rots the roots," she said upon the release of the report. 

Supply side

The report found that the system of corruption is fueled by both supply and demand.

Sixty percent of the surveyed firms report corruption to be costly, but more than half

also say that it is beneficial. When unofficial payments do occur, nearly 90 percent of firms say that it was most often initiated by them, the report found.

Kwakwa said this creates "a vicious circle of bureaucratic problems and the unofficial payments that are demanded or offered to solve those problems."

"When the problem of corruption is generated in part by the supply side, the need to change societal attitudes is even clearer. Firms and citizens need to know that they have alternatives to bribery; and where no alternatives exist, Vietnam's leaders need to create them," she said.

Dung, the retired traffic policeman, said many drivers just do not want to take the time to pay fines at the police office.

"First, they insist on rejecting their infringements and squabble with the police officers. When the evidence of their violations is clear, they began to beg the police to accept a bribe and let them go."

"They provoke greed among the traffic police," he said.

To bribe or not to bribe?

Interestingly, the report found that many firms that make unofficial payments unilaterally in order to get things done faster do not perform better than those which play by the rules.

On average, firms that confessed to paying bribes over the past year were actually growing slower than firms that said they did not, the report said.

Meanwhile, the firms that were growing fastest, on average, were the ones that said they routinely do not react to difficulties with state agencies by bribing the officers in charge, it said.

Helping firms to understand their legal options and alternative strategies for dealing with difficult situations could help ease supply side based corruption, it said.

"The surveys also show that firms that seek out alternatives to bribery actually perform better. What better message to send to Vietnam's business community!" Kwakwa said.

 "It is up to Vietnam's leaders political leaders, people's elected representatives, leaders of the business community, civil society and citizens groups to shift the balance from shadow to light, from corruption to integrity to make change happen."

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