By Chi Lan
The fight against corruption in Việt Nam has never been this aggressive. That much is evident.
The arrest of former high-level official Trịnh Xuân Thanh early this month marked the latest of at least ten high-ranking leaders who’ve been exposed in 2017 alone.
Provincial leaders, deputy ministers and ministers have all been ousted under a variety of alleged charges: graft, abuse of power or mismanagement causing serious consequences.
The most shocking, unexpected downfall in the crackdown thus far is of former Party Secretary of HCM City Đinh La Thăng, who was also member of the Party’s top decision-making body, the Politburo.
Thăng was removed from the 19-member group following allegations of serious wrongdoing.
This campaign has been depressing and heartening at the same time.
Depressing because it has exposed the ugly truth about corruption in high places and heartening that it has destroyed the notion of immunity enjoyed by those at the top.
The unprecedented scale of this crackdown can be attributed in large part to Party General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng. Though all the decisions to strip corrupt officials of their titles at different levels were unanimous decisions by the Party Central Committee or Secretariat, the determination of Trọng, the Party leader, has without doubt been a powerful driving force in this fight.
Rapid economic development and rising living standards have been the most outstanding achievements of the ruling Party for decades now, giving people reason to repose their trust and confidence in its rule.
But the underbelly of this development, in terms of unequal distribution of its benefits, has been exposed as growth slows, public debts rise and a State Budget strains to meet its obligations.
The darkest part of this underbelly has been deep-rooted corruption, and rooting it out requires the political will to tackle it on a war footing.
It is to the Party’s credit that it has called corruption a “national threat", and taken serious steps to try and restore some of the eroded public trust in the nation’s governance.
Việt Nam is a highly open economy with a huge reliance on trade for economic growth. Everyone is hoping that the signing of several free trade agreements with developed economies will bring about enormous benefits for Việt Nam, but this also means that our foreign partners expect more transparency and probity.
In addition to such pressures from the outside, the rapidly growing number of Vietnamese citizens with better education and 24-hour access to the Internet, which has helped expose and brought quite a few cases of corruption to light, has also meant that disappointment with the Party and Government can also spread really fast.
In this context, one cannot but applaud the Party leadership, especially the General Secretary, for showing that it means business in the fight against corruption. However, the questions still remain: How far can it go, and for long can it last?
Though high-ranking officials have been removed from their positions, in most cases, that’s the only penalty they’ve suffered. Not many have been prosecuted and sent to prison.
Economic crimes that rob taxpayers of their hard-earned money cannot be treated lightly.
The recent crackdown, impressive as it has been, has not stopped some surprising reports about zero cases of corruption from surfacing.
So the fight is far from over.
With the traditional collective way of making decisions in Viet Nam, I believe it will not stop any time soon. We cannot afford it to. — VNS