Viet Nam News
by Hồng Kiều
HÀ NỘI – Nguyễn Tiến Lãng, 79, and Nguyễn Công Uẩn, 80, are war veterans who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the country.
One of them was seriously wounded while on duty, but could not get his due benefits because of “complications” in the application process.
Both of them were cut to the deep long after the war ended as their countrymen hatched fraudulent schemes to gain social welfare benefits designated for veterans.
Silence was not an option.
They did not realise then that it was going to be a long drawn battle against a lot of tough odds, but giving up was not an option, either.
In 2005, many residents of Thuận Thành District in Bắc Ninh Province, where Lãng and Uẩn lived, spread through word of mouth information on how to make fake documents and benefit from the Government’s support policies for war veterans.
“An acquaintance told me that for VNĐ30 million (US$1,300), one can get a dossier certifying that one is a veteran. Another VNĐ30 million, and one could get a certificate of injuries and become eligible for a monthly stipend,” Lãng said.
“I felt heartbroken. I used to serve in the army back in 1965 and stayed for 10 years. I was also seriously injured, but due to complications in the certification process, I didn’t have a veteran’s certification and did not benefit from any supporting policies.
“But now, people who merely had work accidents, lost a finger or had a forehead injury, could so easily become veterans! Meanwhile, many of my comrades and I, who were willing to die for the country, some of them have actually died, hadn’t been recognised as veterans!”
Uẩn said many people in the village advised him to fake a document and collect the money. He didn’t do it, of course. Instead he began to fight the scheme, silently.
After talking to many people trying to get the fake veteran documents, Uẩn found out how it was done. Then, he and Lãng set out to try and collect all the relevant documents and other incriminating evidence.
Long, winding road
For three years, the two men cycled from place to place for the whole day, collecting hundreds of fake veteran documents.
And while, this was happening, they were not silent about other corruption cases.
In 2006, they denounced several officials of Gia Đông Commune in Thuận Thành District for their wrongdoings in land management.
For this, Uẩn was threatened and beaten by one of the officials several days before the Tết holiday. He asked local police for help and was allowed to stay at the police station for a few days. That year, Uẩn spent the Tết holiday in Lãng’s house.
But the people he’d exposed were not done exacting revenge. His orchard of longan trees was destroyed. It had at least 25 longan trees more than 40 years old, which had helped him raise six children.
While Uẩn and Lãng never felt like giving up their thankless crusade, they did feel lonely for most of their long journey.
“My wife and kids kept telling me to quit doing such things. They even said I have to choose: stay with them or continue what I was doing,” Uẩn said.
“I love my family dearly but I believed what is right would win in the end. If I quit what I was doing, it would mean what I was fighting for was wrong. How could that be? I couldn’t quit,” he said.
Nguyễn Thị Thơm, Uẩn’s wife, said she was very scared and worried for a long time.
“I didn’t support what he did. Not at all. What he did made a lot of people in our community hate us. I was even afraid they would place a bomb in our house!” she said.
While many ways were tried to force Uẩn to withdraw his petitions, he was hurt most when he was made to leave the group of elders in the village. Not a single person in the group dared to stand up by his side.
Lãng’s situation was no better. He spent most of his pension on traveling to find evidence and submitting denouncement letters.
“When my wife asked me about my pension, I said I was using it to do good deeds. When she talked too much about it, I made my own meals and slept separately,” Lãng said.
He said it was understandable that his wife and children were angry. His house was often covered with dirt and waste and rocks, and people would stand in front of his house and abuse him verbally. His orchard of more than 100 grapefruit trees and 100 papaya trees was destroyed.
He did not budge.
“I’ve fought in the war – and the war couldn’t kill me. I was willing to fight for my country, and now I’m willing to fight for the right things,” Lãng said.
Finally, a response
In 2009, Bắc Ninh officials, unable to ignore the mounting evidence, began investigating the denouncement made by Uẩn about land management in his commune. Disciplinary action was initiated against the officials.
At the end of that year, Uẩn was granted a reward by the Central Anti-Corruption Steering Committee.
In 2010, the denouncements and all the evidence collected by Uẩn and Lãng were sent to the Department of Affairs for People of Meritorious Service to the Country under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.
The department took the denouncements seriously and conducted an examination of the hundreds of documents. Many violations were found. Names had been changed or replaced, injury certifications were done incorrectly, and assessments were faked.
In 2013, five defendants were prosecuted for fraudulent efforts to appropriate assets, and the case was placed under further investigation.
Since then, the High Command of Military Zone 1 has found more than 2,700 cases in which veteran documents were faked. Twenty-four people had to face criminal charges. More than VNĐ150 billion (US$6 million) was revoked, and some VNĐ20 billion was cut in State Budget’s spending on wrong beneficiaries.
“The people living in my village eventually understood that I didn’t fight against anyone – I merely fought against wrongdoing and injustice,” Lãng said.
The Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs is now processing the request to grant Minister’s Award to Lãng and Uẩn for their contribution to the anti-corruption cause.
Representative of the ministry said they were seeking for guidance from the Government Inspectorate’s Anti-Corruption Department to grant awards to Lãng and Uẩn.
Uẩn said: “I never thought of getting any award when I did all this, I only think of social justice. I might not live long enough to get the state’s awards. But I think if awards are given, it would encourage other people to fight corruption as well.” --VNS