by Minh Thi
|llustrative image.— Photo phunutoday
HA NOI (VNS)— Nguyen Thanh Hai is a 32-year-old engineer working for a State-owned construction company in Ha Noi. He is paid a monthly salary of VND10 million (nearly US$500), which is considered an average wage for someone in his position.
Hai is able to feed his family of four without much difficulty. He lives in a nice house, and drives a nice car. His lifestyle is comfortable, complete with all the latest gadgets, new clothes and holidays overseas.
When asked how he managed to live so comfortably on a public employee's salary, Hai laughed at the question and called it "naive".
"There are several sources from which I can earn extra income," he said, citing the bonuses he gets upon the completion of his company's construction projects as an example.
In 2012 the Government Inspectorate of Viet Nam and the World Bank conducted a survey into the non-salary income received by public officials in 10 provinces and major cities around the country. The results were damning.
In total, 79 per cent of officials admitted to benefiting from unregulated extra income, with one in nine saying that this figure amounted to at least 50 per cent of their regular salary.
Sixty-nine per cent said the additional money came from savings made by spending only some part of company allowances, for example travel fares, and personally pocketing the difference.
Another more controversial form of income cited was money given as gifts. Financial offerings and gifts in kind are not illegal in Viet Nam, despite the obvious potential for them to be given for the wrong reasons, but are coming under increased scrutiny.
In his recent report on the control of public officials' incomes, Pham Trong Dat, director of the Anti-Corruption Department under the Inspectorate argued that the bonuses and gifts cited by the civil servants were "sensitive" sources of income and likely to be linked with corruption.
The likelihood of corrupt practices was clearly indicated in the survey, with 25 per cent of officials admitting to receiving money or gifts in return for using their capacity to provide preferential treatment.
A further 17 per cent of the officials said that they had promoted incompetent employees for personal gains.
The figures are particularly worrying for the Anti-Corruption Department who are looking to tackle a problem that has led to international condemnation and Viet Nam performing poorly in worldwide corruption rankings.
Le Nhu Tien, deputy chairman of the National Assembly's Committee for Culture, Education, Adolescents and Children Affairs blamed the prevalence of corruption on the low salaries received by many civil servants. He claimed the levels are not enough for people to live on, support families and keep money saved for emergencies.
"In truth, the salaries do not reflect the true value of labour," he said.
This opinion is backed up by the survey, with 79 per cent of the officials claiming low salaries were the factor contributing to corrupt practices.
"The frequency and variety of attempts made by officials to earn extra income is worrisome because it comes at a very high cost," Tien declared. "We are approaching a stage whereby public sector operations only run smoothly when there is some "grease" to the system in the form of bribes."
This has been noted by citizens in the past who have been frustrated by officials delaying to approve paperwork unless an envelope is left on their desk.
Tien is adamant that guilty parties must be held accountable for their actions.
"A normal public official who owns a car worth billions of dong and lives in a villa has almost certainly become rich through illegal means.
People like them are mostly not wealthy because they have worked hard or are smarter than everyone else. They have cheated and taken a shortcut using their professional positions."
|The centrepiece of the 2005 Anti-corruption Law was a piece of legislation demanding public officials regularly declare their assets and income.—llustrative image/Photo vnexpress
Measures to halt corruption have been implemented in recent years but have had little effect so far. The centrepiece of the 2005 Anti-corruption Law was a piece of legislation demanding public officials regularly declare their assets and income.
However, the huge number of workers filing their declarations has made it almost impossible for more than a fraction to be fully verified and the results have remained for the most part confidential.
James Anderson, Senior Governance Specialist from the World Bank in Viet Nam has called for an overhaul of the existing asset declaration system, declaring that there is no evidence to show that it is working.
"The present system cannot be meaningfully verified and the non-public nature of the declaration makes it hard for knowledgeable citizens, the media or organisation to point out inaccuracies."
According to Anderson, the number of employees targeted by the law should be limited to high-level officials or those working in departments where corruption is believed to be rife, and the results should be made easily available.
Dat, from the Anti-Corruption Department, agreed that a separate law on asset and income declaration must be implemented as a priority and warned that corruption is becoming more serious, complicated and difficult to control.
He added that transparency is essential, on the condition that it is in the public interest and does not infringe a person's right to privacy.
He also called for the development of a legal income registration system, public administration reforms and increased application of advanced technology in management as alternative solutions to the problem. — VNS