Is our corruption glass half full or half empty?

March 14, 2018 - 09:00

Given their frequency, we should not be surprised, but we continue to be shocked each time an instance of corruption in high places comes to light.

Nguyễn Thanh Hoá. Photo

By Khánh Vân

Given their frequency, we should not be surprised, but we continue to be shocked each time an instance of corruption in high places comes to light.

The latest such instance is the arrest of a former senior public security police officer on suspicion of involvement in one of the country’s biggest online gambling and money laundering cases.

Nguyễn Thanh Hoá, former head of the Public Security Ministry’s Hi-tech Crime Police Department, was placed under arrest on Sunday for allegedly organising gambling, a crime under the Penal Code.

Hóa’s hi-tech department was in charge of tackling illegal activity on the web, including online fraud and illegal betting. But now the Major General is in the dock for the very crime he was required to fight.

Hóa, 60,was a very high ranked officer who’d gained repute for busting many cases of illicit online gambling, both domestic and transnational, covering hundreds of websites and IP addresses linked to illegal football betting.

We may or may not learn when and why Hóa turned from being a crime fighter to an alleged criminal, but it is said that he abused his position as head of the hi-tech crime police department to “protect” a gang using the internet to illegally appropriate assets, organise gambling rings, trade fake invoices and launder money in many localities.

The gambling ring is believed to have been operating since 2014 and its “turnover” worth trillions of Vietnamese đồng. Initial seizures by the police have netted more than VNĐ1 trillion (US$43.9 million) and it has been estimated that $3.6 million in foreign currencies had been transferred to overseas accounts.

A Russian proverb says: “When money speaks, the truth keeps silent”. Not always, hopefully. While Hóa’s role in this case is still under investigation, evidence suggests that he reaped huge enough kickbacks to lure him into getting involved in the racket despite his position.

As has been mentioned time and again in these columns by several people, the damaging ramifications of such cases go beyond a few culpable individuals. It sows deeper the distrust that public harbour about governing institutions, the police and even the criminal justice system as a whole.

A brief look at some of the corruption cases that have unfolded before that of Hóa shows how deep and systemic the rot is. In 2003, former Deputy Minister of Public Security Bùi Quốc Huy, was found guilty of not properly supervising an investigation into the activities of a leading criminal in the country, Năm Cam, who was charged with murder and bribery, among other things. Huy was sentenced to four years in jail for dereliction of duty.

Former vice chairman of Vinashin, Phạm Thanh Bình, abused his power and position, causing losses of over VNĐ1 trillion; former vice chairman of Vinalines, Dương Trí Dũng was embroiled in a VNĐ360 billion corruption case; and Trịnh Xuân Thanh, former vice chairman of the People’s Committee of Hậu Giang province and ex-chairman of PVN subsidiary PetroVietnam Construction Co JSC (PVC) was accused of criminal economic mismanagement that led to the losses of nearly VNĐ3.3 trillion ($146.6 million).

These are just a few examples of corrupt abuse of power and position. The more power a person holds, the higher his or her status, the easier it is for him or her to engage in corruption, apparently.

Given how pervasive corruption is, what do we take away from the many cases that have been brought to light and strict punishment meted out?

Is our corruption glass half full or half empty?

None above the law

The arrest of a top police official is a reaffirmation and vindication of the determination shown by Party General Secretary Nguyễn Phú Trọng to have no “prohibited zone” in the fight against evil.

This is one way to see the many serious cases of corruption and economic crimes involving senior Party and Government officials that have been uncovered and prosecuted in recent years: evidence that the top echelons of the Party and State are carrying out the corruption fight seriously.

Nowhere has this been more evident than the case of the former Party Secretary of HCM City, Đinh La Thăng, who was also member of the Party’s top decision-making body, the Politburo. Thăng, who was also former chairman of the State-owned oil giant PVN, was sentenced to 13 years in prison earlier this year for deliberately violating state regulations on economic management.

Việt Nam has, therefore, made progress in the fight against corruption. The country ranks 107th among 180 countries and territories in the Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2017 released by Transparency International late last month, a slight improvement over the previous two years.

However, it can also be argued that the recent corruption cases show that disciplinary measures imposed on many Party Committees and Party organisations at different levels, as well as on Party officials and members, including those holding high positions, for violating the law haven’t been effective enough.

What the latest corruption case makes clear is that probity and incorruptibility are qualities that we have to cultivate from a very, very early age. We have more than enough leaders in our history to inspire us to do this, and it is high time our high-ranking officials go beyond offering lip service to such leaders and the ideals they espoused.

It seems that many in the country are equating the “market economy” with being mercenary; that the pursuit of a high life now means the relentless pursuit of riches. Now that we have seen that such pursuit produces lowlifes, we should understand that the nation’s future depends on all of us taking the high road. — VNS