Corruption and rent-seeking is impairing further economic growth in Vietnam. (Photo: 2.on flickr.com)

Corruption is widespread in Vietnam. In the 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index from Transparency International, Vietnam scored 2,9 from a cleanest possible  10 and was ranked 112 out of 183 countries. In recent years, corruption has become a serious concern for the Communist Party. High economic growth has slowed, and critics, although facing the risk of harassment, have raised their voices.

-Corruption has been called an existential threat to the Communist Party. If they fail to get the economy back on track, there is a real danger of social unrest, says Aled Williams, advisor at CMI’s U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre.

The curse of natural resources
Williams and Jesper Johnsøn, also advisor at the U4 Anti-Corruption Resource Centre, recently organized a workshop on anti-corruption approaches for natural resource management in Hanoi. Natural resource sectors are particularly susceptible to corruption due to the huge potential for personal benefits. Power in the hands of an elite or a limited number of interest groups, combined with weak monitoring and reporting systems are also factors that contribute to rent-seeking in natural resource sectors. In Vietnam, the mining industry, land management and forest governance have been identified as particular areas of concern.

-Corruption in the land sector is comprehensive. Ad hoc allocation of land is common, and personal economic interests lead to land-grabbing. Corruption is also impairing prospects of broad-based  growth from the country’s extractive industries, says Williams.

Only on paper?
The Vietnamese government has pinpointed corruption as the prime enemy of growth in the mining sector and has adopted a national strategy on anti-corruption. There is a comprehensive legal framework, and also debates on possible participation in the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).  The Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade is currently working on a pre-feasibility report on the country’s EITI participation. But according to Williams, the pre-feasibility report is also symbolic of slow progress in anti-corruption work. There is a need for concrete interventions, not only for consolidating the legal framework.

–This is the paradox of anti-corruption. On the one hand, anti-corruption laws can be excellent. On the other hand, we see few concrete outcomes. Anti-corruption is far too often reduced to a matter of signing statements and hosting high-profile dialogues, while little happens on the ground. However, this is not only the case in Vietnam. There is almost always a gap between what is on paper and what goes on in real life, says Aled Williams.

The workshop in Hanoi gathered participants from the Vietnamese government and civil society organizations as well as international donors. They noted that reform priorities for Vietnam should be to build real transparency, simplify procedures and strengthen oversight.

-There is also an urgent need to enhance public participation in the debate on corruption and to improve accountability mechanisms involving citizens. This is challenging in a country which is a one-party state and in which space for civil society is extremely limited, says Williams.