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Thayer Consultancy Background Briefing:

ABN # 65 648 097 123


Vietnam – Nguyễn Phú Trọng’s
Anti-Corruption Campaign
Carlyle A. Thayer
December 31, 2018

We are preparing a report that takes stock of what Vietnam’s anti-corruption
campaign has been able to deliver and the role of its commander in chief -- Nguyễn
Phú Trọng. We request your assessment of the following:
Q1. What are the most significant takeaways from the Trọng-spearheaded
crackdown on corruption on 2018?
ANSWER: The most significant takeaway from the anti-corruption campaign in 2018
has been its increased pace, expansion of its scope to include not only high-level
corrupt officials but high-level officials who failed to exercise the authority of their
positions to expose corrupt practices, and the severity of disciplinary action.
Officials found guilty of corruption were arrested, tried and given jail sentences.
Officials who failed to curb corrupt practices within their area of responsibility were
disciplined and in some cases dismissed from their posts and expelled from the
party.
Severe punishments were handed out to senior officials involved in massive fraud.
For example, Petro Vietnam’s chief executive officer was sentenced to death and
Trịnh Xuân Thanh, a Petro Vietnam executive, was sentenced to two life terms in
prison.
The scope of the anti-corruption campaign netted Đinh La Thăng, the first member
of the Politburo to be sentenced to prison. Two members of the Central Committee,
Trần Văn Minh and Tất Thành Cang, were expelled and also dismissed from other
posts; a third member of the Central Committee, Trương Minh Tuấn, was disciplined
and dismissed from his post as Minister of Information and Communications.
Bùi Văn Thành, a deputy minister in the Ministry of Public Security, and Đinh Ngọc
Hệ, Chairman of the military’s Thái Sơn Joint Stock Company, were arrested. Party
officials in Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh cities as well as several provincial officials were
disciplined and dismissed from their positions.
Q2. What is your assessment of Trọng’s role as commander in chief of the campaign?
ANSWER: Nguyễn Phú Trọng was placed in charge of the Central Steering Committee
for Anti-Corruption in May 2012 after his election as party Secretary General at the
eleventh national party congress the previous year. But it was not until 2016, when
Trọng was re-elected party leader that the anti-corruption campaign picked up
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momentum and became his signature policy issue. In 2018 the eighth (October) and
ninth (December) plenums of the party Central Committee conducted under his
leadership took strong disciplinary action against corrupt officials.
There can be no doubt that Secretary General Trọng has the support of the Central
Committee to conduct the anti-corruption campaign. The evidence for this is his
unanimous election by the Central Committee to concurrently hold the office of
state president and the fact that he received the highest votes of confidence in
December 2018 among twenty-one members of the Politburo and Secretariat.
Q3. Trọng has faced a lot of scepticism over the real motive behind the anti-
corruption campaign. Has such scepticism changed at all? If, so why? If not, why not?
ANSWER: When Secretary General Trọng took charge of the anti-corruption
campaign there were sceptics in Vietnam about the aim of the campaign. Was it
about restoring the party’s prestige among the people or did it have some other
aim? As the campaign widened its scope to include not only corrupt officials in state-
owned enterprises and banks but also high-level corrupt officials at national,
municipal and provincial level and high-level officials who failed to exercise their
authority to curb corruption. Corrupt officials in several government ministries, even
the Ministry of Public Security, were arrested.
The Vietnamese media has reported that in the period after the twelfth party
congress over sixty officials under the management of the Central Committee were
disciplined including five incumbent members of the Central Committee. Three were
also expelled. It is now clear that the anti-corruption campaign is widespread in
scope and is aimed not only at corrupt officials who served in office prior to 2012 but
after.
Q4. How has the anti-corruption campaign changed Vietnam's political dynamics?
How much of a bearing has it had on the confidence of foreign investors?
ANSWER: As the anti-corruption campaign has unfolded it has targeted networks of
corrupt officials in specific government ministries and in party-government posts at
municipal level in Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City. Because the campaign has also
targeted officials who failed to exercise their authority, entrenched networks are
being broken up. This will open the door for the selection of “strategic cadres” to
take over leadership responsibility.
If this pattern continues it will result in a comparative strengthening the party at
central level as opposed to “independent kingdoms” at provincial level.
The anti-corruption campaign will increase the confidence of foreign investors in
Vietnam. Corruption adds to the transaction costs of doing business in Vietnam and
lowers efficiency. A reduction in corruption will reduce costs and raise efficiency.
Q5. With potential candidates for the next national party congress already jockeying
for power, will the anti-corruption campaign continue to intensify next year? What
should be its top priority -- protecting the legitimacy of the party or repair shattered
public trust?
ANSWER: The anti-corruption campaign in 2019 and beyond will take place in
tandem with efforts by the Politburo to draw up regulations to guide the behaviour
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candidates for future senior party and state positions as well as the six hundred
“strategic cadres.” In other words, there will be greater scrutiny of the backgrounds
of future leaders. Both efforts – anti-corruption and regulations on leadership role
models – will intensify to weed out unqualified candidates and expose networks that
facilitate corruption.

Suggested citation: Carlyle A. Thayer, “Vietnam – Nguyễn Phú Trọng’s Anti-


Corruption Campaign,” Thayer Consultancy Background Brief, December 31, 2018.
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other research support to selected clients. Thayer Consultancy was officially
registered as a small business in Australia in 2002.