Top leaders named and shamed in latest scandal to hit Vietnam's 'most livable city'

By Dien Luong   September 18, 2017 | 06:54 pm GMT+7

The latest developments come after a raft of management scandals that have plagued Da Nang and before a major Party gathering.

The two top leaders of the central city of Da Nang are facing "disciplinary measures" for misconduct, mismanagement and dishonesty, the Communist Party's top watchdog announced on Monday, a path reminiscent of how the top leader of Ho Chi Minh fell from grace last May.

A report from the Central Inspection Commission said that Da Nang’s Communist Party unit had not “strictly followed” regulations set by the Communist Party, including “democratic centralism” principles.

It criticized the local unit for “loose leadership” of land management, including illegal and unauthorized decisions regarding land allocated for business use.

The committee recommended disciplinary action against Nguyen Xuan Anh, Da Nang's Party chief, and Huynh Duc Tho, the city's chairman, for serious violations that "sparked annoyance among Communist Party members, state officials and the public."

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Huynh Duc Tho, chairman of Da Nang's People's Committee. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

Huynh Duc Tho, 55, is held mainly accountable for violations in land management in the city. He is also the vice chief of the city's Party unit.

Nguyen Xuan Anh, who also chairs the municipal legislature, is accused of flouting the Party’s democratic centralism principles by making many decisions without consulting others, besides personal misconduct.

He also set a bad example by accepting a car and two houses as gifts from businesses, according to the Central Inspection Committee. Anh returned the car last March in the wake of a public backlash that prompted Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to step in.

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Nguyen Xuan Anh, Party chief of Da Nang's Communist Party Committee. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

Anh's academic credentials have also been flagged by the inspectors. He claims to have earned an MBA and doctoral degrees from the California Southern University from 2002 to 2006, but those certificates have never been recognized by Vietnam’s education ministry, the inspectors said.

On the other side of the Pacific, "California Southern University was unaccredited when he got his Master's and Ph.D. degrees," an American expert with knowledge of that country's accreditation system told VnExpress International on condition of anonymity.

The Southern California University for Professional Studies, as it was previously called, changed its name to California Southern University in 2007 and received accreditation in 2010 from the Distance Education Accrediting Commission, a form of national accreditation. It was accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission in 2015.

It's not immediately clear what will become of Anh and Tho, but the case appears to be steering in a similar direction that led to the dismissal of Dinh La Thang, the former Party chief of Ho Chi Minh City.

In May, Thang lost his post as well as his seat on the Politburo, the Communist Party’s decision-making body, just several days after the Party’s top watchdog recommended disciplinary action against him for “serious violations” when he headed the energy giant PetroVietnam several years ago.

Da Nang, widely dubbed "Vietnam's most livable city", has gained kudos as one of the most modern places in the country, and its leadership is often hailed as an example to follow.

It will host world leaders, including U.S. President Donald Trump, China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November. Roads, meeting halls and a new airport terminal have been built there, according to a Reuters report Monday.

Yet the latest developments follow a number of management scandals in recent months. They also came just as 200 senior Communist Party members are slated to convene for a major meeting in Hanoi next month. Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong said in July that the fight against corruption is no longer handled slowly and on a case-by case basis. "It has become a movement," he said.

Last month, a criminal probe was opened after Tho and other city leaders received death threats from various senders, including an executive of PetroVietnam in Da Nang. The latter said he was angry because his villa on Son Tra Peninsula had been requisitioned to make way for a tourism development on Son Tra Peninsula.

The tourism plan from Son Tra drew widespread criticism when it was floated in March.

The city had planned to develop a resort covering around 2,900 hectares (7,170 acres), or around half of the peninsula, home to the biggest langur population in Vietnam. The city only agreed to hold back and review the plan after both tourism and conservation experts voiced their opposition, prompting Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam to step in.

Anh is the son of Nguyen Van Chi, who used to chair the very watchdog that proposed punitive measures against him. He was elected Da Nang's Party chief in October 2015 at the age of 39 and became one of the two youngest Party chiefs in Vietnam besides Nguyen Thanh Nghi in the southern province of Kien Giang. Nghi is the son of Vietnam’s former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Taking his position, Anh pledged to fight corruption, saying that he would not allow people to abuse their power for personal gain.

Embarking on his career as a journalist, Anh quickly rose through the ranks of Vietnam's political apparatus. In 2014, when he became vice Party chief of Da Nang, analysts said the major challenge for young leaders like him would be the formal and informal institutional arrangements within the state that limit the efficiency, efficacy and transparency of government.

For some, the challenge would also lie in the battle against the deep-seated public grievance against a political apparatus that has been plagued by nepotism and cronyism and not based on meritocracy.

“They will have to go the extra mile to prove themselves, more so than other young leaders who do not have such famous fathers,” Nguyen Minh Thuyet, an outspoken lawmaker who retired in 2011, said at the time.

“The public would warmly welcome leaders who exhibit genuine, demonstrated commitment to transparent and responsive government,” Thuyet said.

“But the people also have the right to remain skeptical and they will be watching."