Cablegate: Keeping a Focus On Corruption

Published: Wed 27 Aug 2003 06:27 AM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
E.O. 12958: N/A
A. HCMC 0499 B. HCMC 0496 C. 02 HANOI 2913
1. (U) Summary. According to CPV officials and official
media reports, corruption remains an endemic problem in
Vietnam at all levels, but the GVN and CPV are actively
taking steps to go after at least some officials. Sweden is
assisting with a grant for a "research" project on "root
causes" and solutions. Vietnam is unlikely to be very
successful in these efforts, however, given the lack of
genuinely independent investigatory mechanisms and a free
press. End Summary.
The Party tackles corruption
2. (U) In a meeting with Pol/C, Dr. Nguyen Van Quyen --
concurrently Vice Chairman of the Internal Affairs
Commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party
of Vietnam (CPV) and Director of the Steering Board of the
"Anti-Corruption Project" -- confirmed that the CPV remained
"very concerned" about corruption, which has spread to "all
levels" of the party and government. He admitted that it
was "vitally important" for the future of the party to take
even more active measures to confront this "social ill,"
which affects the authority and legitimacy of the CPV
itself. He nonetheless claimed that corruption was already
on the decline, thanks mostly to the steps already taken by
the CPV, which he said had more "comprehensive coverage"
than the governmental Ministry of Home Affairs.
3. (U) Dr. Quyen attributed the pervasiveness of
corruption more to "low developmental levels" within Vietnam
as well as a lack of adequate legislation than to the
problem of low salaries. He noted, however, that the salary
issue nonetheless needed to be rectified as well, as
discussed at the 8th plenum of the CPV's Central Committee
in June. He added that so far "administrative punishments"
had been used more often against corrupt officials, but that
increasingly provisions of the Criminal Law would be invoked
against wrongdoers. He also expressed a hope that the
National Assembly would add to or strengthen existing
legislation, much of which now takes the form of
"ordinances" or "resolutions" passed by the NA's Standing
Committee, rather than formal laws passed by the entire
Assembly. He claimed no knowledge about whether the number
of corruption cases was on the rise or not.
4. (U) High-level corruption was the "most dangerous" to
Vietnam, Dr. Quyen opined, while admitting the bad morale
impact at the local levels of day-to-day grassroots
corruption. He confirmed that the two Central Committee
members implicated in the Nam Cam trial (refs a and b) had
been the most senior CPV or GVN officials ever convicted on
corruption-related charges. He added that, apart from
somewhat higher levels of corruption in the more affluent Ho
Chi Minh City, there were no noticeable differences among
regions in terms of corruption; in particular, ethnic
minorities in the Central or Northwest Highlands were no
worse off than anywhere else in the country, he claimed. He
expressed a hope that recent requirements for declaration of
assets by National Assembly candidates and even for Party
delegates would be a brake on corruption. (Note: While the
requirement for the 11th NA election in May 2002 was well-
publicized, Embassy records do not include any references to
a similar requirement for the 9th Party Congress in spring
2001, although Dr. Quyen claimed a similar requirement was
in place then. end note)
Sweden to the rescue
5. (U) The Government of Sweden in 2002 provided a grant
to the CPV of about US$800,000 to "research" the nature of
corruption over a 3 year program, Dr. Quyen confirmed. Much
of the program will involve comparative studies, including
"study tours" to Sweden, South Korea, Malaysia, and China,
as well as several conferences to be held in Vietnam
involving both Vietnamese and international experts. The
goal will be to determine "more effective measures" to
combat corruption based on a "better understanding of root
causes," he noted. Dr. Quyen added that the steering board
had considered study trips to the U.S. but ruled them out as
"too expensive." He said that the CPV also maintained links
with official anti-corruption groups elsewhere, such as ICAC
in Hong Kong. Separately, a Swedish diplomat welcomed the
CPV's willingness to cooperate bilaterally on such a
potentially sensitive subject and to include a formal role
for a Swedish adviser, as well as Vietnam's own monetary and
in-kind contributions to the project.
6. (U) Dr. Quyen highlighted that other foreign-funded
projects had included corruption-related foci, such as UNDP
programs with the Ministry of Home Affairs, but that the
Swedish project was the first to concentrate exclusively on
corruption. He added that the CPV and GVN were discussing a
similar project with the EU.
Public campaigns
7. (U) Vietnamese media reported on a two-day seminar
organized by the CPV in Ho Chi Minh City August 20-21
focused on suppressing corruption. Addressing the seminar
were, inter alia, Politburo members Ngueyn Minh Triet (also
HCMC party chief) and Pham Dien (standing member of the CPV
secretariat and former Danang party chief) as well as CPV
Central Committee Internal Affairs Commission chief Truong
Vinh Trong. Triet admitted ongoing corruption but predicted
"fruitful results" against this "bad practice." Dien noted
that the campaign against corruption -- as well as against
"negativism and wastefulness" -- was under the "close
supervision of the Party leadership." Trong emphasized the
need to "clean up the Party and State workforce," while
citing a particular focus on the education and training
sector. He promised a new anti-corruption task force to
help law enforcement officials go after corrupt officials,
while urging the mass media to "maintain public support" for
anti-corruption efforts. (Comment: likely an indirect
reminder not to overstep CPV guidelines by being overly
aggressively in tracking down cases the CPV would rather not
expose, as began to happen during the Nam Cam
investigations. End comment)
8. (U) The media has also reported on some recent cases of
punishment for official corruption (following provincial-
level cases reported ref c), including:
-- disciplinary punishment and early retirement of Quang
Tri provincial People's Committee Chairman Nguyen Minh Ky in
August and September, respectively;
-- execution in July of Pham Nhat Hong, deputy director of
the Ho Chi Minh branch of the state-owned Industrial and
Commercial Bank of Vietnam, as well as businessman Tang Minh
Phung, for defrauding the government of more than $350
million (a 1999 case that found another 75 people also
guilty; two other death sentences were commuted to life in
January 2000);
-- life sentence in June for Le Quang Toan, former director
of Transport Import-Export and Construction Co. 502 for
embezzlement of US$142,000, along with varied sentences for
another nine accomplices; and,
-- sentences of seven and four and a half years in Binh
Dinh province for Cat Hung People's Committee accountants
Nguyen Huu Truc and Do Van Nhan, along with four suspended
sentences for other commune officials for embezzlement of
$13,800 between 1994 and 2000.
9. (U) The CPV and GVN take seriously the threat posed by
corruption, not only for their legitimacy but also as to its
international reputation as a place to do business. These
campaigns are designed in large part for public consumption,
to reassure that something is being done on this front and
well as genuinely to punish some officials. Given the CPV's
own worries about the most dangerous nature of high-level
corruption, however, the small-fry nature of most of these
cases belies the seriousness of these campaigns. In the
absence of genuinely independent investigatory mechanisms
and a truly free press, Vietnam's efforts to curb corruption
are apt to fall behind the growth of this problem throughout
the country.
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