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VietNamNews

Anti-corruption efforts damaged by scandal

Update: November, 27/2014 - 10:02
Party inspectors announced last week that their probe into Truyen's assets had unearthed several violations of the state's housing and land policies. — Photo baodautu

by Thu Van

The irony of having to revoke ill-gotten assets from the nation's former anti-corruption czar has not been lost on the public, which has welcomed the move.

However, the information that has been revealed in the case of former Government Chief Inspector Tran Van Truyen raises more questions than it answers.

Party inspectors announced last week that their probe into Truyen's assets had unearthed several violations of the state's housing and land policies.

The Inspection Commission of the Party Central Committee chastised Truyen for his "lack of honesty," for "not thinking carefully", and for "failing to set a good example" as the head of the Government Inspectorate from 2007 to 2011.

"His actions have inflamed negative opinions across the society and tarnished his reputation and that of the Party," a press release from the commission said.

The release has been welcomed as a good sign in the country's anti-corruption fight, since it points out detailed violations by a former high-ranking official.

It is also one of the rare instances in which a retired official has been investigated. For long, it has been "understood" in Viet Nam that retired officials are not to be held accountable for actions while in office.

Let sleeping dogs lie, has been the wisdom that has prevailed.

The former chief inspector's case has been hailed in several quarters as a sign of real hope in the fight against graft, carrying a strong message that the long arm of the law can reach out to the past as well.

However, let us ask a few more questions before we toast this success.

The inspection was conducted nearly three years after the former chief inspector retired, while officials declare their assets every year.

Why is it that Truyen's assets, obviously disproportionate, fail to show up earlier on the Government and Party's anti-corruption radar?

If asset declarations are dealt with properly, the violations and wrongdoings would have been discovered long ago, when Truyen was still in office.

Besides, the punishment handed out thus far to Truyen and relevant authorities who facilitated his wrongdoing have been too lenient.

The inspection commission ordered Truyen to explain himself in a meeting, and they called on his family to return the misappropriated land and houses.

Going by the violations listed in six cases, Truyen's real estate holdings have been estimated at around US$10 million. In a country like Viet Nam, where the per capita GDP is approximately $2,000, and where the income of an official of the same rank as Truyen is VND18 million ($900) a month, it would take something like a hundred years to earn $10 million!

We don't know whether the Party will dig further into this case. But leaving questions unanswered might undermine the people's trust in the promises of transparency made by the Party and the Government.

We can't accuse anyone of corruption based on guesses, but further inspections into Truyen's assets are surely called for.

Addressing an anti-corruption conference in 2007, Truyen himself had called for transparency regarding assets and income of officials and public employees.

On the sidelines of a parliamentary session in 2010, he'd stressed the importance of accurate and honest asset declarations by officials.

When nation's top inspector himself has to eat his words, what can we make of the Government Inspectorate's statement just last month about asset declarations by officials and public employees in 2013.

Deputy Inspector General Tran Duc Luong said that among one million individuals who have to declare their assets, only five cases have to be re-examined and only one official has been found to have made false asset declarations.

Can this figure or other such figures be trusted?

In the light of current evidence, we cannot sit back and say that the nation has turned a corner in its corruption fight.

Only when the public gets credible answers to all questions can we hope for effective policies that curb officials' power to indulge their greed and accumulate inordinate amounts of wealth.

Truyen's case is a good opportunity to go deeper into the corruption fight, but whether that will happen remains an open question. — VNS

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