Vietnam leader slams corruption, eroding morality in Communist Party

By Dien Luong   October 16, 2016 | 11:00 am PT
Vietnam leader slams corruption, eroding morality in Communist Party
Women sell fruits in the central resort town of Hoi An, Vietnam. Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong has warned that falling morality and degrading lifestyles among Party members have set them miles away from the public and their grievances. Photo by Reuters
'They obviously are concerned about the Party losing its ideological platform.'

Vietnam's top leader has admitted that immorality is eroding the ruling Communist Party, chipping away at public trust and threatening the very political system.

Party General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong was addressing delegates last Friday at the end of a six-day meeting of the Communist Party’s Central Committee, a powerful grouping of 200 senior Party members. He said that falling morality and degrading lifestyles among Party members are evident in corruption, cronyism, bureaucracy, opportunism and individualism that have set them miles away from the public and their grievances.

Trong highlighted that deviation from socialism could take place in the process of “self-evolution” or “self-transformation” among Party cadres and government officials. “This could lead to collaboration with sinister and hostile forces” to sabotage the Communist Party, he said.

The meeting took place in the wake of a series of scandals involving Party members that has left the nation both riveted and demoralized. Chief among them was the corruption scandal at a unit of the state-run oil and gas giant PetroVietnam that led to the arrest of four senior executives and an international warrant for another.

It is in this context that concerns about "self-evolution" or "self-transformation" are legitimate, analysts say.

"They obviously are concerned about the Party evolving, losing its ideological platform and historical stance," Zachary Abuza, a Washington-based Southeast Asia analyst, said. "They might be more concerned about the lack of internal Party discipline."

Last month, the Ministry of Public Security issued an international wanted notice for Trinh Xuan Thanh, former chairman of PetroVietnam Construction JSC (PVC), after charging him with allowing the company to incur losses of around VND3.2 trillion ($147 million) under his watch between 2011 and 2013. The hunt came on the heels of the arrests of four other senior executives at the company, who are all being probed for "violating economic management regulations causing serious consequences”.

Earlier this month, the Central Steering Committee on Anti-Corruption announced that six high-profile corruption cases are going to be brought to trial for the first time between now and the first quarter of next year.

In 2014, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, an international standard gauge of government malfeasance, ranked Vietnam 119 out of 175 countries and territories; the country was ranked 116 in 2013 and 123 a year earlier. Its position has barely budged, moving to just 112 in 2015.

Vietnam’s officials often brush off negative international assessments of its domestic affairs, saying they fail to reflect the real picture here. But corruption is indeed serious enough for the country’s leadership to use strong words when they speak of the problem.

The country needs “to continue to press ahead with the fight against corruption and wastefulness,” Trong said.

The immediate question that arose among both local and foreign analysts was whether Trong's warning was a new development in Vietnam.

"The Party has been pinpointing the degradation in morals and lifestyles among Party members for a long time now,” Carl Thayer, an Australia-based Vietnam specialist, said. "This is not a new issue. If we cast our minds back, senior Party officials were [also] identifying corruption as a major threat to the Party.”

In 2006, Trong's predecessor Nong Duc Manh, besides acknowledging the decline in morality and lifestyle, pointed out that "bureaucracy, corruption, and wastefulness by cadres and civil servants were serious."

Also that year, General Vo Nguyen Giap, architect of Vietnam's historic military victories over French colonialism and American imperialism, said in a widely quoted comment: "The Party has become a shield for corrupt officials.” Giap died in 2013.

Vietnam is amending its Anti-Corruption Law a decade since it was enacted in 2005. But at the end of the day, “the problem for Vietnam's fight against corruption is not the lack of regulations, but the lack of enforcement mechanisms,” 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.

“If institutional reforms are not undertaken to enhance officials' political and economic accountability, the Party won't be able to curb the widespread corruption within its system,” Hiep said.

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