by Hang Nguyen
Tet is a holiday that people from all classes of society reunite with their families, extend New Year's greetings to each other and welcome the spring.
This year, the Party Central Committee's Secretariat has banned its members from presenting Tet gifts to senior officers following a newly-issued official directive signed by Le Hong Anh, Politburo member and standing member of the secretariat.
The ban aims to call upon people to practice thrift, fight waste and stop people from giving Tet gifts to senior officers in an attempt to curry favour.
The ban was actually issued several years ago, but no-one has been reported or disciplined for violating the regulations.
Nguyen Thi Hai, 32, a Government worker, said the ban would not be seriously obeyed because it lacked supervision.
"Who will stop people from presenting Tet gifts to senior officials, and who is going to report them if they do?" she said.
A State-run agency official who wished to remain anonymous said that he was always "miserable" to reject Tet gifts from his staff.
"When I say that I can't accept the gifts, some of them think that I'm implying the value of their gift is too little," he said.
They didn't believe me when I told them, and some went so far as to ask what they should buy for me, he said.
They even visited my house again with more expensive gifts, he added.
"It was miserable for me and it took me time to persuade them the reason I rejected their gifts was because I thought my prestige was more important, and I wanted to continue my job without being exposed to the public for corruption or something like that," he said.
The official recommended disciplinary action for people who bribed senior officers.
The question remains about how to implement the ban effectively.
To tackle a similar situation, China took drastic measures to crackdown on corruption just weeks before the start of the Mid-Autumn Festival last year by banning officials from using public funds to buy moon cakes.
An article by Reuters titled Dark side of moon cakes: China's war of graft hits high-end pastries published in the middle of last September reported that the Chinese Communist Party's Central Commission for Discipline Inspection urged people to report cases of party members and government or state-owned enterprise officials spending public funds on gifts, banquets, travel and luxury goods during the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day, which falls in early October.
"Excesses in past years had even prompted the government to ask officials and workers to pay income tax on moon cakes they receive," said the article.
"(This year) some government officials are less willing to accept a lavish or high-priced box of moon cakes, or in some cases, any moon cakes at all," said Eric Carlson, a Beijing-based partner at law firm Covington&Burling and an anti-corruption expert.
It also quoted the owner of a state-owned moon cake factory in Shanghai as saying that political developments last year had hit high-end moon cake sales, but sales of cheaper cakes with traditional fillings had risen by 20 per cent.
Le Nhu Tien, deputy chairman of the National Assembly's Committee for Culture, Education, Youth and Children's Affairs, told Tien Phong (Vanguard) newspaper that senior officials should reject Tet gifts and reprimand people who tried to give them.
If senior officials acted accordingly, the ban would be more effective, he said.
"There are many ways to tackle the problem, but I think the most important thing is the attitude of senior officials," Tien said, adding that a system to supervise the implementation of the ban was needed.
Personally, I think the ban looks good on paper, but nothing will change unless it goes hand-in-hand with strict measures, and it's time to change because "actions speak louder than words". — VNS