Many people in Vietnam consider bribery to be a systemic problem. But a new survey by the United Nations and the Vietnamese government aims to give ordinary citizens a means to voice their experience with corruption so authorities can do something about it.
The survey, conducted by the United Nations Development Program and the Vietnam Fatherland Front, comes at a time of economic growth in Vietnam, prompting more people to demand better services from the government, said UNDP policy advisor Jairo Acuna-Alfaro.
“The more educated citizens are, the healthier they are, the more they expect in terms of quality [like] better education, health and more competent public officials that deal with their administrative procedures in a timely manner,” he said.
Many of those on at the forefront of this change are farmers who have lost their land to development projects.
Last week hundreds of farmers in Hung Yen province protested a plan to clear land for a new satellite city. Le Hien Duc, an anti-corruption activist and former member of staff for the country’s first president Ho Chi Minh, said witnessed about 1,000 policemen use tear gas to disperse 3,000 farmers. According to state-run media reports 20 people were arrested.
The incident came only a few months after a farmer in Hai Phong province used guns and landmines to fend off authorities trying to evict him from his land. Land disputes are of particular concern, said Alcuna-Alfaro.
“I think this is what we are seeing in terms of land," he said. "All the problems that we have seen in the first few months of this year where citizens are starting to raise their voices and complain to the government that perhaps all these land dealings have not been favorable to them.”
Land use issues are an important part of the Provincial Governance and Public Administration Performance Index, launched on Thursday.
Of the 13,500 people interviewed for the survey, only nine percent of citizens who had property taken by the government said they received compensation close to the market value. Two out of five interviewed said it was necessary to bribe someone to get a land use certificate.
Acuna-Alfaro said the results are important because anti-corruption efforts in Vietnam are usually self-assessed, which means end-users rarely have a chance to voice their thoughts.
“We are flipping the coin and providing a different type of data which might be more objective and more representative of the citizens, the users of those services, which need to be considered when discussing improvements in the legislation and in the actual implementation of the different provincial level strategies,” he said.
One-third of those interviewed said bribery was needed to receive medical care and two out of five said bribes were necessary at schools.
In a country where the average monthly wage is only $150, the amount those interviewed spent on bribes each year is staggering. On average, about $125 is given in bribes to medical staff and $58 to teachers and schools.
The number is high, but not surprising, said Dang Ngoc Dinh, director of the Vietnam Center for Community Support Development Studies. Dinh likens corruption to traffic jams -- a problem that everyone knows is out there, but for which there are no quick fixes.
The point of the survey is not to despair over low marks but to do something about them. For that reason, said Dinh, a low score should not necessarily be considered a bad thing. Rather, he said, it's an opportunity for authorities compare scores and learn from each other so they can do better.
Alcuna-Alfaro said it is now up to provincial authorities to take action and crack down on corruption.
With over 13,000 voices, the evidence will be difficult to ignore.