Vietnam to tolerate ‘no mistakes’ at APEC summit after host city's leaders implicated for misconduct

By Dien Luong   September 20, 2017 | 05:07 pm GMT+7
Vietnam to tolerate ‘no mistakes’ at APEC summit after host city's leaders implicated for misconduct
A new terminal has been build at Da Nang International Airport in the lead-up to the APEC summit this November in the central city. Photo by VnExpress/Nguyen Dong

A deputy PM gives the assurance two days after the Party’s top watchdog proposed punishment against Da Nang’s top leaders.

Construction work and logistical preparations for the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in the central city of Da Nang, whose top leaders have just been named and shamed in a widening corruption crackdown, must go ahead smoothly and be completed on schedule, Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh has said.

There must be "no mistakes" made during the course of the six-day summit, which opens on November 6 in Da Nang, the government's news portal quoted Minh as saying at a meeting of the APEC 2017 National Committee on Wednesday.

Da Nang will host world leaders, possibly including U.S. President Donald Trump, China's Xi Jinping and Russia's Vladimir Putin at the summit. Roads, meeting halls and a new airport terminal have been built in preparation for the event. That will be the second time Vietnam has host the summit after 2006.

The instructions came two days after the Central Inspection Committee, the Communist Party’s top watchdog, proposed "disciplinary measures" against the city’s top leaders for misconduct, mismanagement and dishonesty.

Nguyen Xuan Anh, Da Nang’s Communist Party chief, 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.

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. The school was not accredited in the U.S. until 2010 and has not been recognized by Vietnam’s education ministry.

The other leader caught up in the scandal is Huynh Duc Tho, the city’s chairman, who has been held mainly accountable for land management violations in the city. He is also the vice chief of the city's Party unit.

The Central Inspection Committee said that Anh and Tho's actions had "sparked annoyance among Communist Party members, state officials and the public," and were serious enough to merit punishment.

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.

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 key gathering in Hanoi.

“Communist Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong and other top leaders have pledged to suppress high level corruption,” David Brown, a retired U.S. diplomat and expert on Vietnam, said. “Things got so embarrassingly ugly in Da Nang that action was necessary.”

It is likely that the political fate of the city's leaders will not be decided until the Communist Party’s Central Committee plenum opens at a yet-to-be-announced date in October, just slightly ahead of the APEC summit.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not respond to an inquiry about whether this move would have any bearing on the summit, but the instructions from Deputy Prime Minister Minh, who is also Vietnam’s foreign minister, appear to be aimed at reassuring the public.

“I don't think it will impact APEC which is being managed mostly from Hanoi,” Fred Burke, one of Ho Chi Minh City’s longest-serving American lawyers and a board member of the American Chamber of Commerce here, said.

Vietnam’s anti-corruption campaign, spearheaded by Party chief Nguyen Phu Trong, has focused on energy giant PetroVietnam and the banking sector, ensnaring scores of officials involved. Besides Thang, another vice trade minister was also fired last month.

Anh, the Da Nang's Party chief, is the son of Nguyen Van Chi, who used to chair the very watchdog that has 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.


Nguyen Xuan Anh, Communist Party chief of Da Nang city, attends a meeting in Hanoi, March 24, 2017. Photo by Reuters/Kham

The punishment Anh is facing is reminiscent of how the top leader of Ho Chi Minh, Dinh La Thang, fell from grace last 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 watchdog recommended disciplinary action against him for “serious violations” when he was chairman of PetroVietnam several years ago.

With the latest move targeting Da Nang’s top leaders, “it is clear that the counter-corruption investigations are not going to end with PetroVietnam and the banking sector,” Zachary Abuza, a Southeast Asia analyst at the National War College in Washington, said.

“The leadership is sending very clear signals that growth and development are not going to come at the expense of Party discipline,” he said.

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