Vietnam’s 30 biggest firms reluctant to publish transparent information

By Quynh Trang   April 26, 2017 | 05:59 am PT
'Businesses fear that disclosing financial statements could reveal their business secrets.'

None of Vietnam’s top 30 companies disclosed sufficient transparent information in 2016, according to a report released Wednesday by Towards Transparency, the official Vietnam contact of the Berlin-based Transparency International.

“Websites are the easiest way to access a company’s information, and that information should be available for small shareholders, potential investors and the press.” said Nguyen Thi Kieu Vien, founder and executive director of Towards Transparency.

The report said that as of November 30, 2016, four of the top 30 firms did not have working websites, while none displayed transparent information on anti-corruption, company structure and ownership, along with country-by-country reports for multinational corporations.

Only nine firms partially detailed their anti-corruption commitments on their websites, while just 18 state-owned and public limited companies outlined their structure and ownership.

None of the companies in the FDI sector revealed their corporate structures, including the Vietnamese subsidiaries of Unilever, Microsoft Mobile and Canon.

Since September 2015, state-owned and public companies in Vietnam have been governed by a decree on publishing transparent information, but FDI companies are not.

In March, the Vietnam Provincial Competitiveness Index 2016 showed that around 66 percent of Vietnamese businesses said they had to offer bribes or make informal payments to public officials, of which 25 percent of FDI businesses had to pay bribes to gain an official investment license.

An Oxfam representative told the press that there should be a transparency law for FDI companies to create a level playing for everyone.

However, shifting corruption surveillance from state-owned companies to private and FDI sectors could provide an easy way out for the anti-corruption agency, which is already having a difficult time targeting state-owned companies, according to Dau Anh Tuan, head of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry's Legal Department.

Call for bolder action

The report also found that 14 multinational companies on the list had failed to provide country-by-country reports, Transparency International’s term for the disclosure of payments and operations of multinational companies.

The team found no information online about the revenues, costs, net incomes or public contributions outside Vietnam for several local firms whose investments in Cambodia or Myanmar have been covered frequently by local media.

"Vietnamese businesses fear that disclosing financial statements could reveal their business secrets," Tuan said. “However, this is a matter of the country’s image, so these companies should disclose details about their foreign investments.”

Nguyen Phuong Chau, a PR representative for FPT, said no company would publish this information if it wasn't for the law, a desire for international trade and a vision to bring the company closer to ultimate transparency.

Anti-corruption schemes are still foreign to many Vietnamese businesses, and all of the top 30 provide little or no anti-corruption guidelines or disclaimers on their websites.

In this section, FDI companies were closest to meeting established global standards, scoring 24.2 percent, with 0 percent as no information provided and 100 with complete commitment and policies.

While experts are concerned about the big players, they also pointed out that small and medium enterprises account for more than 90 percent of the country’s businesses, and corruption is often a way of life due to a lack of financial power and resources.

“It is not just the government’s responsibility; businesses also need to develop a mindset that says they do not have to rely on bribery and corruption to thrive,” said Tuan.

“I hope Vietnamese businesses will try harder to combat corruption in the near future.”

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