Vietnam dismisses Ho Chi Minh City leader from Communist Party’s decision-making body in rare move

By Dien Luong   May 7, 2017 | 08:51 pm GMT+7
Vietnam dismisses Ho Chi Minh City leader from Communist Party’s decision-making body in rare move
Dinh La Thang in a file photo. He has been dismissed from the Politburo, the decision-making body of ruling the Communist Party. That also means he is likely to be fired from his position as the top leader of Ho Chi Minh City.

Dinh La Thang was voted out of the Politburo on Sunday.

Vietnam’s Communist Party has removed Dinh La Thang, chief of the Party unit in Ho Chi Minh City, from its highest decision-making body as punishment for mismanagement when he was at the helm of the state-owned energy giant PetroVietnam.

It is extremely unusual for the ruling Communist Party to dismiss a sitting Politburo member. The last time such punishment took place was two decades ago.

Thang also received a warning from the Communist Party, which has four modes of punishment for misconduct by official members: reprimand, warning, demotion and expulsion.

The rare move was made during the weekend when the country’s most senior Communist Party members are convening for a major one-week meeting that began on Friday in Hanoi.

The meeting is to discuss hot button issues, according to Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong. On top of the agenda are the reform of the much-cosseted public sector, the development of the private sector and punitive measures against Party members.

An overwhelming majority, over 90 percent, of the Party’s Central Committee, comprising around 200 senior Party members, voted to dismiss Thang on Sunday, the Vietnam News Agency reported.

The Central Committee said in a statement that, despite his contribution to PetroVietnam, his former workplace, Thang committed “serious” shortcomings and violations during his tenure as the group's board chairman from 2009 until 2011.

Such wrongdoings caused “indignation among Communist Party members, state officers and the public,” warranting the punishment in line with the Party regulations.

No longer a member of the Politburo, Thang, 56, is likely to also be removed from his position as the top leader of Ho Chi Minh City.

In late April, the Central Inspection Committee, the top watchdog of the ruling Communist Party, recommended disciplinary action against Thang, holding him accountable for a series of “serious” violations and mismanagement at PetroVietnam.

He served as the board chairman there from 2009 until 2011, when his political career took off as he joined Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s cabinet as Minister of Transport.

The recent inspection only focused on business violations at PetroVietnam between 2009 and 2015. The Party’s inspectors found that he was responsible for illegal business decisions, including violations involving an investment in local lender OceanBank and “big bidding packages,” according to a post on the government website.

Thang was also responsible for “advising the Prime Minister to designate many bidding packages that failed to meet legal regulations,” according to the Central Inspection Committee.

It said he was responsible for violations of the Law on Bidding related to the Engineering, Procurement and Construction (EPC) contract for Dung Quat Biofuel Plant as well as low investment efficiency in a number of projects, including the Dinh Vu polyester manufacturing plant and bio-energy projects.

Thang was voted into the 19-member Politburo in early 2016. He became Ho Chi Minh City’s Party chief the same year.

Named transport minister at the age of 51, Thang was considered young enough in Vietnam's political apparatus to be groomed for higher places.

In a country where the masses are always yearning for the charismatic and stern leadership, Thang was catapulted into political stardom thanks to his verbose rhetoric and sometimes tough action.

Since moving to Ho Chi Minh City, he has continued grabbing headlines by populist statements that promised to address hot-button problems such as corruption, crimes, traffic jams, and education.

"This is a very unusual case," Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia analyst, said of Thang's dismissal. The Party is trying to "show that even the most politically powerful are not immune," Abuza said.