Ahead of key Party gathering, Vietnam reaffirms ‘no-holds-barred’ anti-graft push

By Dien Luong   October 3, 2017 | 10:46 pm GMT+7

Any action to be taken against Da Nang's top leaders will not affect the APEC Summit to be held in the central city this November.

Vietnam’s top leadership will continue to press ahead with a “no-holds-barred” crackdown on corruption that has ensnared scores of officials, a government minister has said just on the eve of a major meeting of senior Communist Party members.

Mai Tien Dung, minister and chairman of the Government Office, reiterated the political will of the Party and the government to fight corruption at a press conference on Tuesday that took place after a monthly cabinet meeting.

Dung also said the punishment facing the two top leaders of Da Nang would not affect the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit to be held in the central city this November. Essentially, according to Dung, preparations for the summit have been calibrated and managed by top leaders in Hanoi and are not intertwined with any action to be taken against the leaders of the host city.

Last Friday, the Communist Party’s top watchdog gave a slightly clearer inkling of what will become of the two top leaders of Da Nang after naming and shaming them for misconduct, mismanagement and dishonesty.

Huynh Duc Tho, Da Nang’s chairman, received a warning from the Communist Party, which has four modes of punishment for misconduct by official members: reprimand, warning, demotion and expulsion. 

Meanwhile, Nguyen Xuan Anh, Da Nang’s Party chief, will have to await a final verdict from the Politburo, the Party's decision-making body.

The Politburo is expected to issue its decision at a key gathering that opens on Wednesday in Hanoi with over 200 senior Party members in attendance. Such regular biannual meetings usually last one week to ten days long; this one is scheduled to wrap up next Tuesday.

ahead-of-key-party-gathering-vietnam-reaffirms-no-holds-barred-anti-graft-push

Vietnam’s Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, who is spearheading the anti-corruption campaign, said in July that the fight against corruption has become a movement. Photo courtesy of Vietnam Government Portal

State energy giant PetroVietnam and the banking sector have been at the center of the crackdown that has netted a slew of high-ranking officials. Chief among them is Dinh La Thang, who was ousted from the Politburo last May and fired as the top leader of Ho Chi Minh City soon after.

Just last Friday in Hanoi, a former chairman of the state energy giant PetroVietnam was sentenced to death and a former CEO of a scandal-hit bank got a life sentence in what has been called the biggest fraud trial in Vietnam’s history. The OceanBank trial, as referred to by local media, also saw a raft of officials and bankers receive jail terms of up to 22 years.

According to analysts, restructuring and reorganizing are expected to be high on the agenda of the Party gathering this time. They have been a recurrent theme of Party conclaves in recent years, but with little progress, analysts say.

"This time around, the pressures for such reforms are getting more intense," said Le Hong Hiep, a Vietnam analyst at the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute in Singapore, which studies social, political and economic trends in the region.

It is "partly because of the severe implications of high-profile corruption cases for the reputation and the very survival of the regime, as well as for the country's economic performance. The impetus for changes may therefore be stronger now," Hiep said.

"But I'm still doubtful as to whether there will be any serious institutional reforms. The anti-corruption drive targeting certain officials rather than a systemic overhaul to prevent corruption remains the key focus for the Party for now."

Disciplinary actions against senior Party members seem to be another major theme, analysts say.

At a similar meeting in 2012, the Party’s Central Committee struck down a Politburo proposal to punish itself as a group and a government leader. But that was an extremely rare occasion in which the Politburo and the Central Committee were not on the same page on disciplinary decisions.

Such discordance seems unlikely this time, analysts say.

"The power structure in Vietnam has been consolidated since the 12th Party congress [in January 2016]," Hiep said, "and the top leadership has been able to forge a certain level of consensus within the Party's top echelons on the need to clean up the system," he said.

"The most important factor in all these movements is perhaps the Party leadership's hightened sense of urgency regarding corruption fighting, as corruption is now posing an existential threat to the economy and the Party's survival itself."