Sun, May 31, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Donor nations ask Vietnam to crack down on corruption


Vietnam has reformed its corruption laws, but has made few concrete moves to crack down on offenders via the legal system or the media, foreign diplomats told Vietnamese officials on Friday.

Ambassadors and representatives of international aid organizations told Vietnamese government inspectors at a semi-annual dialogue on corruption that ending widespread malfeasance would require transparency, contracting reform and greater freedom for journalists and civil society groups to denounce violators.

There needs to be a “strong emphasis on enforcement” of existing anti-corruption law, and on “the role of civil society, the media and the public,” Swedish Ambassador Rolf Bergman told the gathering.

“In the current context of Vietnam, anti-corruption measures are still not very effective,” Vietnamese anti-corruption officer Le Van Lan said.

International concern over corruption in Vietnam has sharpened since two Vietnamese journalists who reported the notorious PMU-18 corruption case in the Ministry of Transportation were arrested in May, last year.

In December, Japan halted all development assistance to Vietnam for several months over the PCI affair. Consultants from a Japanese company Pacific Consultants International said they had paid the head of Ho Chi Minh City’s Transportation Department US$800,000 in kickbacks on a highway construction project.

The dialogue on Friday focused on the corruption-prone construction industry. Vietnamese officials detailed a host of problems in the sector.

Pham Van Khanh, a director in the Government Inspectorate, said inspections from 2005 to 2007 had found 28 cases in which contractors were paid for nonexistent work, or had double-charged for work they had done. He said the amount lost totaled nearly US$100 million, of which the government had recovered just under half.

Khanh and other officials said construction projects were often awarded to large companies that submit unrealistic bids, then subdivide the work among smaller companies that lack the capacity to carry out the job effectively.

The World Bank and Vietnamese officials focused on administrative measures, such as making project data publicly available and paying civil servants higher salaries to ensure they do not resort to extortion. The Vietnamese presented a host of decrees and regulations adopted in recent years to harmonize anti-corruption laws.

But Danish Ambassador Peter Hansen presented a study showing that articles on corruption in the Vietnamese media, which crested around the PMU-18 affair in early 2007, had since dropped to almost nothing as journalists who reported on the case were punished.

“Clearly the press lost their confidence after the PMU-18 case,” Hansen said. “So now you have to build up their confidence to be able to report without any sanctions. But I think the government at least to some degree realizes that the press has an important role to play.”

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