Vietnam province’s leader handpicked son for top post. Now both face the music

By Staff reporters   December 16, 2017 | 04:15 am PT
Vietnam province’s leader handpicked son for top post. Now both face the music
Le Phuoc Thanh (L), the former top leader of Quang Nam Province and his son Le Phuoc Hoai Bao. Thanh has been held accountable for nepotism in fast-tracking Bao to a top post in the province in 2015. Photos by VnExpress/Dac Thanh
The Communist Party's top watchdog strikes down an appointment that raised widespread hackles two years ago.

A senior official who became the youngest provincial department head in Vietnam at the time of his promotion is all but poised to lose his position following a ruling by the Communist Party’s top watchdog that dismissed his appointment as “wrongful” and held his father, who then was the province’s top leader, accountable for nepotism.

The Central Inspection Committee said in a statement on Saturday that Le Phuoc Hoai Bao, the director of Quang Nam’s Department of Planning and Investment, was “dishonest” in his profile and application form when he was nominated for a slot at the Communist Party unit of the central province in 2015. The committee did not elaborate on his dishonesty. It also concluded that Bao had violated the Party’s discipline principles, among other things.

The committee held Quang Nam's provincial administration responsible for a host of wrongdoings in appointing local officials and pointed the finger at Bao’s father Le Phuoc Thanh, who was the province’s top leader until September 2015.

Thanh was also singled out for the promotion and appointment of his son. Thanh had sanctioned the local government to wrongfully use the state budget to fund Bao’s master's degree in the U.S., according to the committee. After returning to Vietnam, Bao quickly rose through the ranks of the province’s political apparatus, but all the promotions and appointments were flagged by the Central Inspection Committee.

Both father and son had made “serious” violations that besmirched the reputation of the Party, it said.

The committee asked the Quang Nam administration to remove Bao from the province’s Communist Party unit and annul all appointment decisions related to him, a move that paves the way for his dismissal. But it is not immediately clear what will become of his father, who retired in 2015.

In so doing, the Party’s top watchdog essentially struck down a conclusion made by the Ministry of Home Affairs two years ago that found nothing amiss in the appointment of Bao.

In September 2015, Bao, then 30, was installed as head of the province’s Department of Planning and Investment, becoming the youngest department director in any Vietnamese province.

The appointment grabbed national headlines and drew public scrutiny because he was considered inexperienced and his father was still the chief of Quang Nam’s Communist Party unit at the time.

In the wake of the public furor, seasoned diplomat Ton Nu Thi Ninh was quoted by Viet Nam News as saying that if she had been offered Bao's position at the age of 30, she would have rejected it. Bao had served as the vice director of the department for only six months prior to being promoted.

"Six months working as the deputy director of a department isn't enough," Ninh told the English-language daily. "Why does one have to hurry? To be in such an important seat, you've got to have real abilities and good experience."

The public backlash compelled the Ministry of Home Affairs to step in; inspectors then said they looked into the appointment procedures and found nothing wrong.

A week after his son’s appointment, Thanh stepped down on health grounds.

Nepotism is not new to Vietnam. According to the Governance and Public Administration Performance Index, over the past years, “nepotism and corruption in public sector employment have become a systemic problem.”

The problem was serious enough for the country's top leaders to order a crackdown.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in January instructed the Ministry of Home Affairs and local leaders across the country to dismiss any bureaucrats whose appointments were influenced by nepotism, which would otherwise chip away at public confidence in the public service.

Few Vietnamese analysts see anything inherently objectionable about giving key positions to the children of senior officials, so long as they are capable.

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

“The public would warmly welcome leaders who exhibit a genuine, proven commitment to transparency and responsive government, but the people also have the right to remain skeptical and they will be watching,” Thuyet said.

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