Vietnam police use new truck permit rule to extract bribes

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Corrupt traffic cops take advantage of new regulation and set up graft system


A queue of trucks outside traffic police station No. 5 in Hanoi on June 28, with owners waiting to apply for permits to drive inside the city. Photo: Ha An

Truck owner and driver Nguyen Trung Trach has been unable to obtain a license to drive inside Hanoi despite applying several times to the traffic police.

"They asked me to furnish a transport contract," the man from the capital's Ha Dong District said.

"I don't own a company to sign a contract with my customers. I simply have a truck and carry anything people want."

His income has fallen sharply because he has been unable to carry goods into the city since February when Hanoi issued a decision requiring trucks to obtain a permit.

According to the decision, trucks weighing more than 1.25 tons when laden are allowed to drive in the city only from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. and with a compulsory permit issued by the traffic police. Smaller trucks only have to avoid the 6 a.m.-9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m rush hour.

Many truck owners said they have "adapted" to the new regulation by simply following a bribe-for-permit system that some traffic police officers and brokers have created.

Captain Truong Song Thanh, head of the general consulting section of the Hanoi traffic police, said his agency issues two types of permits one for three days and the other for three months and both are free.

But a Vietweek investigation found that many truck owners bribe the traffic police to get the permit.

At around 8:15 p.m. on May 28 a long line of trucks was parked outside traffic police station No. 5 in Long Bien District.

At a nearby café, many truck drivers and owners were preparing their applications that included a VND50,000 (US$2.4) bill.

"It is compulsory," a driver from Hung Yen Province who wanted to be identified only as T. said, referring to the money.

Others were around a desk where a captain checked their applications and quickly put the money in each application into the drawer.


An officer at traffic police station No. 5 receives applications from truck owners for a permit to drive in the city along with bribe money. Photo: Ha An   

The same scene was repeated at many other traffic police stations issuing the three-day permits.

For three-month permits, truck owners have to apply to the city traffic police division, where a bunch of brokers mill outside.

A Vietweek reporter posing as a driver was quickly accosted by a woman at the parking lot who offered to get a permit for VND3.5 million within a week.

"That's the cheapest price. Others will demand VND3.8 million," she added.

A truck driver from Hanoi's Thach That District said he had paid a broker VND3.8 million for a permit.

"It's better than queuing at the office without the certainty you will obtain the permit," he said.

A broker said she takes VND3.5 million up front and the remaining VND300,000 after the permit is issued.

Refusing to reduce the deposit, she said: "I have to pay the traffic police as well. I will lose if you do not return to get the permit and pay the rest."

Vietweek asked Thanh about the rampant bribery, but he merely sent a written reply saying "the permit is free."

However, the officer photographed taking money from applicants has been suspended and the police have ordered an inquiry.

Impractical

Many truck owners and experts said the permit is impractical and unnecessary and causes corruption, and authorities should leave it at stipulating the time trucks can enter the city.

To get a permit, applicants have to submit a transport contract (signed and stamped by both parties) besides other papers like driving license and vehicle registration.

But it is common for a family to own trucks and carry goods following verbal instructions.

Nguyen Van Hieu said he and many other families in Dong Ky Village in Bac Ninh Province make furniture and each has a truck to carry them to shops in Hanoi.

"We are not carrying goods for a company, so we cannot furnish a legal contract as required to be eligible to drive in Hanoi," he said.

Many others said they have to ask the brokers themselves to obtain a false contract when applying.

Nguyen Van Minh, a truck driver based in Hanoi's Hoan Kiem District, said the decision should be scrapped because it is impractical.

"Although trucks of 1.25 tons or less do not require to apply for a permit, almost all loaded trucks weigh far more than this.

"The smallest truck weighs around 900 kg [unladen]."

Bui Danh Lien, chairman of the Hanoi Automobile Transport Association, said his agency has received many complaints from truck owners about the new regulation.

"There is corruption [in issuing] the permit," he said, adding that the decision has created an environment for corruption instead of serving the intended purpose of keeping trucks off the downtown area.

Lien said Hanoi should amend the decision to prevent corruption. "Trucks should be allowed to drive in the city center at night without a permit as they did earlier. The regulation should be rescinded."

Nguyen Van Thanh, chairman of the Vietnam Automobile Transport Association, also criticized the move for creating corruption.

"Any city would ban trucks during certain hours. However, they should be allowed to drive during the other hours without having to obtain any permit."

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