And the “winners” are …

The latest index on corruption in Vietnam is out, published courtesy of a combined World Bank and government of Vietnam report. The results came as no surprise to most Vietnamese and other observers of the local scene.

               Corruption is endemic in Vietnam as previous studies have indicated with the country placing in the bottom tier, ranking worse than China on the scale but beating out kleptocracies like Zimbabwe; hardly a laudable neighborhood  for any nation.

               Newspapers and television reports are full of exposes on bank executives who skimmed millions from their banks, well connected CEO’s who bankrupted state companies, disappearing real estate developers and more.  These titillating stories paint the picture of corruption at one level.   In fact, those involved in land developed were cited as one of the two most corrupt agencies of government in the entire country.

               Most Vietnamese though are not involved in land speculation or have the needs to influence those who have access to the land. But, nearly every Vietnamese (and in Saigon 3.5 million of them) have a motorbike.  Ranking tops on the list of corrupt entities in the country? The local traffic cop. 

Every Vietnamese shakes their hand and laughs a nervous smile at their mention.  Positioned on each street corner, in pairs wearing matching yellow helmets and brown shirts, two way radios, Billy club and clipboard at the ready, the local traffic cop is the icon of corruption that affects nearly every motorist. 

Some days, especially before holidays like TET, the shakedown is even more insidious but being stopped for an alleged infraction is part of the price of traveling in Vietnam.  The “violations” range from going over the (rarely posted) speed limit, driving in the wrong lane (some are apparently reserved for motorbikes, others for cars, still others are turning lanes) or just “because”.  It is futile to argue, although motorists can get a ticket and a date in court (where they will not necessarily fare any better) but that requires surrendering your license and vehicle registration, making it even more difficult to actually get to a court hearing.  It’s Kafka and most motorists have 100,000 dong (about $5 US) at the ready, pay on the spot for the mythical crime and are on their way.

               Corruption, along with general lack of transparency in business, air and water pollution, land speculation, and conflicting rules and regulations are all factors holding back Vietnam from maintaining the extraordinary progress it has enjoyed these past two decades.  Countless millions have moved out of poverty through the economic miracle the country has enjoyed since liberalization of its economy, investment in education and infrastructure, and increased openness to foreign investors.  Corruption, a word on everyone’s lips, can be the cancer that causes it all to come to a screeching halt.

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About Dr. Roy Nirschel

Thirty years experience as an educator; international traveler, occasional writer, on a personal journey. Author of My Seasons in Saigon (available at amazon.com). Upon the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States I promised to go to Mexico; I did! Carol and I are here now. In the spirit of full disclosure, I promised to go to Mexico if Hillary Clinton was elected president too. The Seasons in Saigon are over; I am uncertain about Vietnam for many reasons despite my love for the country. Now it is Mexico time.

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