Peace-time heroes given no protection
by Nguyen Thu Hien
Dr Hoang Thi Nguyet, pharmacist Tran Kieu Oanh, former teacher Do Viet Khoa and student Do Ngoc Son have been praised as heroes by the media for their courage in exposing illegal activities among their leaders, colleagues and teachers.
Nguyet revealed misconduct during medical examinations and treatment at Ha Noi's Hoai Duc General Hospital where 1,000 blood-test results were duplicated for up to 2,000 patients.
Oanh, a pharmacist from southern Binh Phuoc Province's Health Department denounced her leader for forcing patients to pay extra fees and for misappropriating funds from the State budget.
Several years ago, teacher Do Viet Khoa exposed cheating in examination rooms at Ha Noi's Phu Xuyen High School. And student Do Ngoc Son from Bac Giang Province's Doi Ngo High School also revealed cheating by his teachers.
Unfortunately, not many of Viet Nam's 90 million dare to follow their lead. Does this mean that we are becoming too cowardly at exposing cheats? No, Vietnamese people are known for their courage throughout the world.
The reason lies in the fact that no whistle-blower protection programme has been created, except for the Law on Denunciation. In the past, the country's soldiers were provided with protective equipment, weapons and encouragement from the President and people.
Now, whistle-blowers, as the soldiers of peace time, get no protection. They seem to be alone in the fight to protect the country's development despite Article 8 of the law that says citizens cannot be prevented from making denunciations or forced to reveal the identity of whistle blowers.
However, this does not seem to be an effective way of protecting whistle-blowers from those seeking revenge. This is because the law's Article 9 states clearly that whistle-blowers must clearly provide their names and addresses and provide enough evidence.
A high-ranking official said that with such weak mechanisms, Viet Nam's fight against corruption and misconduct would never be successful.
Most whistle-blowers depend on the media to make their denunciations because they are afraid of complaining directly to a public organisation.
All the whistle-blowers mentioned in this story said they were intimidated at work and people in power tried to take revenge.
Dr Nguyet received threats from hospital management and colleagues. She was boycotted and placed under pressure.
Pharmacist Kieu Oanh from Binh Phuoc Province was assaulted by her colleagues and hospitalised. She was later sacked and is now facing a psychological crisis.
Teacher Khoa fared even worse. He was alleged to have mental problems and others made unreasonable denunciations. His house was actually destroyed by gangsters allegedly hired by the headmaster at the high school. He was then forced to move to other schools, but has not managed to find a permanent job.
Student Son was nearly given a failure after publicising a video showing teachers' misconduct during a high school examination. The leader of the Ministry of Education and Training took this to mean Son was the one at fault when he took recording equipment into the examination room to gather evidence.
Nguyet fared better than most. She accepted a reward of VND320,000 (US$15) for her information, which is not enough to buy 10 bowls of pho !
These stories hardly encourage anyone to take risks without any protection, even though Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong stated that combating corruption and misconduct must rely on citizens and party members. He said all agencies and sectors must make it easier for people to expose wrongdoings.
Nearly 30 years ago, the late Party General Secretary Nguyen Van Linh also said leaders should actively fight wrongdoings. "Rice can only grow in the fields when wild grass and pests are completely destroyed," he said.
Viet Nam desperately needs a specific mechanism that protects complainants against victimisat-ion or dismissal, provided they act in good faith.
There should be also provisions to protect the identity of whistle-blowers who fear retaliation, as in the United States. A special task force should be set up to assess all circumstances.
Without these changes, heroes of peace time will rarely emerge. — VNS