Lack of freedom undermines corruption campaign

President Trong took inspiration from the anti-corruption campaign launched by his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping.

Vietnam appears to be becoming more corrupt despite the high profile anti-corruption being led by President Nguyen Phu Trong.

The latest annual survey by Transparency International saw Vietnam slip ten places in the global corruption table (to 117 out of 180), behind such countries as Ethiopia, Zambia and Timor-Leste.

The survey measures perceptions of corruption around the world, collating data from eight separate surveys and sources.

Transparency International notes that Vietnam has taken a strong approach towards the prosecution and punishment of corrupt officials in recent years, but says the approach is not enough on its own.

“Strong enforcement efforts are only part of a comprehensive and effective anti-corruption strategy,” it says.

“In addition, weak democratic institutions and few political rights cast serious doubts on the fairness of the arrests and prosecutions in the country.”

The report concludes that a lack of strong and independent democratic institutions helps corruption flourish in countries such as Vietnam, contributing to a lack of checks and balances.

“As the performance of democratic institutions weakens and political rights decline, corruption festers and grows,” says the report.

Vietnam is one of several countries in the Asia Pacific region to fall back in the global table, a consequence says Transparency International of retreating democratic freedoms across the region.

Vietnam scored 33 points, compared to 35 points in 2017, with 0 being the most corrupt and 100 corruption free.

The report will come as a blow to President Trong, who has identified corruption as the major threat to the standing and legitimacy of the Communist party.

He has described his anti-corruption campaign as a “furnace”, targeting officials at all levels, including the politburo itself, and pressing charges such as embezzlement and financial mismanagement against hundreds of officials.

However, his campaign has lacked transparency and independent oversight, and has struggled to convince sceptics that it amounts to much more than a political purge.

Analysts have noted that officials once associated with President Trong’s long time rival, the former prime minister, Nguyen Tan Dung, have been heavily targeted during the campaign.

The new leadership around Mr Trong has also targeted independent bloggers and tightened controls on an already supine media, helping to eliminate independent voices that helped highlight corruption and other abuses.