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Vietnam Enacts Rules Against Graft Ahead of Party Meeting

A poster promoting Vietnam's communist party is seen on a street in Hanoi, Vietnam January 23, 2019.
A poster promoting Vietnam's communist party is seen on a street in Hanoi, Vietnam January 23, 2019.

Vietnam has passed a new regulation that details prohibitions against corrupt behavior by state officials, down to the last fruit basket.

Decree No. 59/2019/ND-CP requires officials to report all gifts, even small ones, and their relationship to the giver, and requires civil servants refuse to accept "improper gifts," a term that has not been defined but is interpreted to refer to bribes.

A corporate law firm, Baker & McKenzie Vietnam, notes that there used to be a threshold of 500,000 Vietnam dong, or a little more than 20 U.S. dollars, under which officials did not have to report their gifts, often received at special occasions such as weddings, funerals, and public holidays. The new decree gets rid of that threshold.

“Public officials must now disclose all gifts received for an improper purpose, regardless of the value of the gift,” the law firm said in a summary of the decree for clients.

The decree is the latest change as part of the country’s recent efforts to get rid of corruption, not unlike the campaign next door in China under President Xi Jinping. Vietnam has already sent bankers, city officials, and oil company executives to prison. It is now focusing on the ruling Communist Party, which in September approved another rule, Decision 205, to ban payments for promotions.

Analyst Carl Thayer predicts that there will be three priorities as the party gathers in October for the Central Committee’s eleventh plenum: preparations for the next party congress; foreign policy; and anti-corruption.

“Secretary General Nguyen Phu Trong is consistently and methodically carrying out a strategy to identify a core of non-corrupt strategic cadres for key party and state appointments after the thirteenth national party congress scheduled for the first quarter of 2021,” said Thayer, emeritus professor at The University of New South Wales at the Australian Defense Force Academy, Canberra. “The Communist Party of Vietnam has already approved a list of what party members cannot do, for example. Decision 205 aims to curtail, if not end, the widespread practice of paying for promotion or assignment to a particular post.”

Transparency International, a watchdog organization, ranks Vietnam 117 out of 180 countries on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index. The watchdog group said getting rid of corruption would also help Vietnam meet its broader sustainable development goals as an emerging economy.

“Upholding integrity and fighting corruption can play a crucial role in promoting investment and increasing local people’s income,” Nguyen Ngoc Anh and Dang Quang Vinh, two researchers at the organization, said in a report in February.

Decree No. 59/2019/ND-CP is part of that effort. Besides new guidelines on illicit payments, it also further empowers police to investigate corruption, as well as holds supervisors liable for potentially corrupt actions by their staff.