Vietnam's corruption fight only lip service: legislators

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Nguyen Van Hien, chairman of the legislature's Justice Committee, speaks about the fight against corruption at a session October 22. Photo by Ngoc Thang

A leading justice official told a house meeting Tuesday that anti-corruption work was not working and that many inspections had led to few discoveries and little justice.

Nguyen Van Hien, chairman of the National Assembly's Justice Committee, told the legislature's regular session that much of the fight against corruption had failed to response to the real situation.

"Very many inspections have been launched but few cases were discovered," Hien said, pointing to an unidentified locality where 804 probes over more than two years only dragged into light two "small" cases.

Many cases of corruption were only discovered after complaints went through various offices, he said.

"A large number of exposed cases were minor and involved low-ranking officials at the village or commune levels."

Hien also criticized law enforcement agencies for their failure to return the ill-gotten money to the state budget.

Figures from the committee showed that agencies found around VND9.26 trillion (US$439.20 million) in cash plus 51,000 ounces of gold (currently $68 million) and 155,000 square meters of land embezzled in corruption cases, but less than ten percent have been recovered.

Hien said government offices were also not serious about their reports.

"After many years, the government still has not managed to specify which agencies are doing a good or bad job or which areas are prone to corruption."

Hien said his committee had noticed that finance, banking and fund management at state-owned enterprises were sectors that bred serious corruption, while vocational training, employment services and poverty alleviation projects were also high in the list.

The committee also found that many offenders were let to slip away with penalties far less than their crimes.

Many corrupt people only received cash penalties while investigations into more "serious" cases are still suspended, Hien said.

"A high number, 31.2 percent, of corruption offenders that have gone on trial received only probation sentences or house custody, while many of them committed serious or very serious crimes."

He said the superficial take on corruption went all the way up to the central government.

"Central government agencies have not been strict in their inspections and prosecutions, so they hardly make good examples for local authorities."

The Supreme People's Procuracy, Vietnam's top prosecution unit, suspended investigations in 11 corruption suspects between October 2010 and April this year, Hien said.

Many appeals courts reduced "righteous" punishments imposed by the lower courts, he said.

This year, 80 corruption cases involving 90 people and VND117.5 billion have been discovered and 28 people are facing cash penalties while 34 have been put under investigation.

Four people in leadership posts were brought to trial for corruption this year and all received criminal punishments.

Huynh Phong Tranh, chief government inspector, called that an improvement, but said there were still no signs that corruption was decreasing.

"It is becoming more complicated and is happening at different levels (of government) and is getting harder to recognize."

Lawmaker Le Nhu Tien, vice chairman of the legislature's education and culture committee, also said that the lack of determination and seriousness is the biggest problem for Vietnam's in fighting corruption.

Tien said many anti-corruption campaigns are formalities only, such as one requiring state officials to be transparent about their assets and income.

"The information so far is only listed in documents at some government agencies, instead of being made public. It should at least be posted where the officials work and live so it can be challenged."

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