A 73-year-old man working to care for his cancer-stricken wife and a paralyzed son with mental illness was among the people denied this year's Tet aid granted by the prime minister.
Duong Long of Binh Tu Commune in central Quang Nam Province says his name was excluded from the list of aid recipients while others, who were not poor, remained on it.
"We didn't know who to rely on after local authorities had done this improperly," says Long.
Allegations of large-scale exclusions of poor people, deduction of fees from the aid amount, delayed distribution, and outright skimming have prompted Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to order nationwide inspections and strict punishments for violators, Nguyen Xuan Phuc, minister of the Government Office, told Thanh Nien Monday.
Deputy Finance Minister Nguyen Cong Nghiep has also instructed localities to investigate the aid distribution and report to the ministry, which will organize inspection teams to identify wrongdoings before announcing adequate measures.
He told media that the money that has been distributed improperly would be revoked and those responsible will be penalized.
Earlier, the prime minister had instructed authorities to grant VND3.8 trillion (US$217.6 million) to people below the poverty line before the Tet festival which fell on January 26 this year. The aid amounted to VND200,000 ($11.50) per person with each family eligible for a maximum of VND1 million ($57).
In Vietnam, the poverty line has been set until 2010 at a monthly income of VND200,000 per person in rural areas and VND260,000 ($15) per person in urban areas.
However, many poor families from several provinces said that local authorities had deducted several fees, delayed distribution or siphoned off some of the money.
"The localities have engaged in wrongdoing in distributing the aid to the poor," said Nguyen Trong Dam, chief of the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs' Department of Social Welfare. "It has been done arbitrarily by local authorities."
He rejected the explanation that many authorities hadn't managed to correctly account for the number of poor people in their localities.
"It is illogical to blame wrong distribution on inaccurate survey of poor families. The communal authorities have an important task of reporting the number of poor people (in their areas) to higher authorities."
Several provinces Monday speeded up inspection of Tet aid distribution by district and commune authorities.
In Ha Tinh Province, the Department of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs reported initial investigation at several communes found all had committed violations. Many poor people hadn't received any money, while some others had only received part of it.
Authorities in Nghe An and Tra Vinh provinces also told Thanh Nien Monday they have ordered urgent inspection of the distribution of government aid.
Earlier, poor residents from several provinces, including Quang Binh, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Nam, Quang Ngai, Tra Vinh, Soc Trang and Ca Mau, complained they hadn't received enough monetary assistance for Tet.
Last week, many poor families from Quang Ngai and Quang Binh Provinces told Thanh Nien that neighborhood authorities had either deducted several fees or siphoned off some of their Tet aid.
Last Friday, Thanh Nien reported dozens of families in Nghia Hanh and Duc Pho Districts in Quang Ngai Province claimed neighborhood authorities had deducted several fees from their Tet aid money, including rural traffic fees, contributions to build a cultural house and a fund for the poor.
Several poor families from the Thong Nhat neighborhood in Quang Binh Province's Quang Ninh District complained that they were asked to sign documents saying they received VND1 million each, but were only given between VND50,000 and VND250,000.
The neighborhood head, Vo Van Thang, explained that he had used the remaining money to give to families slightly above the poverty line, but couldn't provide any proof.
Recently, poor residents from Tra Vinh Province's Tra Cu and Chau Thanh Districts told Thanh Nien they hadn't received a single dong from the Tet aid package, though the holiday had already ended.
Too little, too late
Like Duong Long mentioned at the beginning of this article, many poor residents said they had expected to receive the announced money to spend for Tet and didn't know who to complain to after being excluded from the aid list.
Phan Thi Quy from An Ninh Commune in Quang Binh Province said local authorities last Friday granted VND500,000 to several households after the media reported on the case. Earlier, the family of four, who have been staying at a pump station for the past seven years, only received VND300,000.
"I think the government should let the poor receive the aid fully as they previously planned," she said.
On Sunday, Nguyen Thi Loan from Khanh An Commune in Ca Mau Province's U Minh District was among several locals who received the late Tet aid.
"I wish we could have had the aid before Tet," she said. "The rice harvest season was not near. We didn't have money even to buy a kilogram of meat for the children on Tet."