Donor nations ask Vietnam to crack down on corruption

Hanoi, May 29, 2009. Vietnam has reformed its corruption laws, but has made few concrete moves to crack down on offenders via the legal system or the media, foreign diplomats told Vietnamese officials Friday.

Ambassadors and representatives of international aid organizations told Vietnamese government inspectors at a semi-annual dialogue on corruption that ending widespread malfeasance would require transparency, contracting reform, and greater freedom for journalists and civil society groups to denounce violators.

There needs to be a “strong emphasis on enforcement” of existing anti-corruption law, and on “the role of civil society, the media and the public,” Swedish Ambassador Rolf Bergman told the gathering.

International concern over corruption in Vietnam has sharpened since two Vietnamese journalists who reported the notorious PMU-18 corruption case in the Ministry of Transportation were arrested in May, 2008.

Danish Ambassador Peter Hansen presented a study showing that articles on corruption in the Vietnamese media, which crested around the PMU-18 affair in early 2007, had since dropped to almost nothing as journalists who reported on the case were punished.

“Clearly the press lost their confidence after the PMU-18 case. So now you have to build up their confidence to be able to report without any sanctions. But I think the government at least to some degree realizes that the press has an important role to play.”

The World Bank and Vietnamese officials focused on administrative measures, such as making project data publicly available and paying civil servants higher salaries to ensure they do not resort to extortion. The Vietnamese presented a host of decrees and regulations adopted in recent years to harmonize anti-corruption laws.

Every Western ambassador at the meeting, as well as the representatives of the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, called for more room for civil society groups to join in fighting corruption.

“The understanding of civil society organizations or NGOs (in Vietnam) is very limited,” said Ran Liao of Transparency International, who spoke at the meeting.

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Thanh Nien, May 30, 2009