Will joining the UN Convention Against Corruption ‘start a fire’ in VN?

Published: 02/08/2009 05:00



Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet ratified the UN Convention Against Corruption on June 30, 2009, showing the world Vietnam’s determination to combat corruption. Dan Tri newspaper talks here with the head of the Institute for National Assembly and Legislature, about the implications for Vietnam.

Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet ratified the United Nations Convention Against Corruption on June 30, 2009, showing the world Vietnam’s determination to combat corruption. Dan Tri newspaper talks here with Dr. Dinh Xuan Thao, head of the Institute for National Assembly and Legislature, about the implications for Vietnam.

Vietnam ratifies UN Convention against Corruption

VN anticipates closer int’l cooperation against corrupt practices

Q: What is the meaning of Vietnam’s adherence to the UN Convention Against Corruption?

Thao: This is a breakthrough for us. Joining this convention, Vietnam qualifies for efficient assistance from other countries in combating corruption.

Corruption-related matters can be addressed multi-nationally; that’s especially significant in solving big economic crimes that have connections to many countries and territories.

Vietnam, Singapore and Japan will have a workshop on the subject “Strengthening Supervision to Effectively Combat Corruption” in late 2009. We couldn’t have such a meeting if we hadn’t joined the Convention.

Q: Why is this workshop with Singapore and Japan, not other countries?

Thao: Singapore is among the four countries with the lowest incidence of corruption cases in the world, while Japan is the top investor in Vietnam.

Q: Every country has its own circumstances, and so realizes difficulties and advantages in carrying out a commitment like this. In your opinion, what are Vietnam’s difficulties?

Thao: When acceding to the Convention, each country promises to build up its domestic policies to accommodate to the international community. So we’ll have to adapt ourselves. The first difficulty is our low starting point. So we have to run, to burn up the track to bring our laws into conformity with the Convention. It is a challenge for us.

Q: Why it is a challenge?

Thao: Firstly, it costs a lot of money to carry out for anti-corruption activities. Changing our fundamental approach to fit the Convention will be costly.

Secondly, member countries have to submit written documents about the corruption situation in their countries on an annual basis. The world may be skeptical if Vietnam shows “empty” documents about corruption.

Q: Vietnam signed the UN Convention Against Corruption in 2003 but we didn’t ratify it until 2009. Why?

Thao: Initially, it was thought that the UN Convention Against Corruption could be ratified just at the Government level but some articles touch on the powers of the National Assembly. It means that the Convention has some articles that are contrary to Vietnam’s current laws. To obey the Convention, we have to revise our laws.

To deal with that issue, the approval of this convention had to go through the National Assembly, and get its approval, so the slowness of our ratification was due to these complications only.

Q: Vietnam is not bound by certain articles in the Convention, for example an article that criminalizes illegal money-making activities. Why?

Thao: International conventions often have discretionary articles. It means that there are some issues that are incompatible with the actual situation of participating countries and these countries have the right to ‘opt out’ of these articles.

Our laws have been stern so we often criminalized some offences. While amending the Law on Combating Corruption, we decriminalized some of these. The international community praised us as democratic and humane.

The fact is, corrupt actors fear financial punishment more than imprisonment. To prevent corruption, we can use financial methods. I won’t send you to jail but I will confiscate all of your assets. So what do you gain from corruption if ultimately your assets are confiscated entirely?

Q: Commenting on the draft Law on Access to Information, you said that to effectively prevent corruption, it is necessary to limit the information we keep secret. Do you think that “secret information” is something that corrupt people can take advantage of?

Thao: The amount of corruption in Vietnam isn’t less because we haven’t found corrupt individuals and punished them appropriately. What’s dangerous is not that we cover up corruption but that we are powerless to stop corrupt acts!

I think the overuse of secrecy stamps at government agencies is a way to cover up corruption, and very dangerous.

We are about to have a workshop on the right of access to information, meaning how to roll up the “screen of secrets”. I’ll emphasize that task.

Q: Some say that our campaign against corruption has slackened off. What is your comment?

Thao: Yes, many people have recently said that. To deal with corruption, however, we need evidence and we have to follow legal procedures.

The media takes credit for uncovering many corruption cases but these cases must be handled according to correct procedures, and with convincing evidence.

For example, the public could say that corruption at a certain construction project is huge. Now if a lot of money is siphoned off, the quality of that work predictably will be poor. If, however, when investors check the construction quality, they say that the work is good, we don’t have a convincing basis for dealing with the accusation of corruption.

It is extremely difficult to combat corruption because corruption is hidden. The person who pays a bribe is always discreet; he doesn’t denounce the extortionists. The extortionists will never “wash their dirty linen” in public.

Investigation may be carried out in a drastic but often we don’t find sufficient evidences. That’s a hard fact.

Q: In the past, King Minh Mang’s philosophy was that you have to deal with corruption from the top down . . . .

Thao: I think this is something that gives our leaders headaches. I think they really are concerned, but it is difficult to detect and punish corrupt people in high positions because of the lack of evidence.

It is said that we only punish low-level corrupt officials, but actually, we have not found evidence of official corruption at higher positions than Deputy Minister.

The truth is, the worst corruption, the greatest incidence of bribery, occurs at low levels. We only accuse high-level officials but forget that the low-level ones, who are directly involved in corruption, are the ones who “get money”.

If corruption is organized, “sharing” will be a fact but if corruption is directly committed by low-level officials, the seniors may get nothing.

Q: You mean that we should address corruption from the bottom to the top?

Thao: That’s right. In corruption, the direct relations are clearest.

Q: Returning to the UN Convention Against Corruption, if you have any worry, what is it?

Thao: We have signed many international conventions but after signing them, have done nothing. I hope that this time we will not follow that ‘tire track.’

We need to immediately, quickly and drastically implement the Convention. We have to finish what we have started, so that we don’t betray the people’s trust and also to show the world our determination in this difficult task.

VietNamNet/Dan Tri

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