Viet slammed for jailing Chien

In May this year Chien (pictured) and another journalist were arrested, and they were convicted last month, along with their police sources, in a case that sent a chill through the country’s state-controlled media industry. –PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

HANOI – FOREIGN diplomats at a meeting on Friday criticised Vietnam for punishing graft-busting journalists and urged the communist government to step up its anti-corruption drive.

Diplomats speaking at the annual Anti-Corruption Dialogue focused on the jailing last month of newspaper journalist Nguyen Viet Chien who had helped uncover a major corruption scandal three years ago.

Swiss ambassador Jean-Hubert Lebet said the case was ‘devastating,’ both for Vietnam’s media and for the country’s image, because it sent the signal that ‘if somebody is reporting on corruption, he goes to jail.’

Chien helped drive media reporting on the so-called PMU 18 scandal, named after a transport ministry road-building unit whose officials pilfered millions in foreign aid and bet much of it on football matches.

In the wake of the scandal, the government in 2006 vowed to crack down on the widespread scourge of corruption, an effort that was cheered by the international community and foreign business groups.

But in May this year Chien and another journalist were arrested, and they were convicted last month, along with their police sources, in a case that sent a chill through the country’s state-controlled media industry.

Chien, an award-winning veteran reporter with the popular Thanh Nien daily, received two years’ prison for the vague charge of ‘abusing democratic freedoms to infringe upon the interests of the state.’ Dutch Charge d’Affaires Bengt van Loosdrecht said at the Hanoi meeting on Friday that ‘if the conduct of the media is too easily criminalised, they may feel hampered to exercise their tasks professionally.

‘Journalists need full access to information and sufficient self confidence to express themselves freely without risking punishment.’ — AFP


Death toll rises in central Vietnam post floods

Hanoi – A week of heavy rains and floods have left 20 people dead and thousands in central Vietnam without food and water, Vietnam’s main disaster agency reported Friday. “Heavy rains have lessened but the water levels in the rivers remain high,” said Dam Vinh Loi, Deputy Head of the Committee for Flood and Storm Control in Binh Dinh province. “We are trying our best to prevent some dikes from breaking.”

Loi said about 20,000 people are in need of emergency assistance. The greatest danger now is the threat of water-borne diseases because fresh water resources have been contaminated.

Authorities in four provinces in central Vietnam, say the damage was caused by Tropical Storm Noul, which struck the country last week. Several people died in landslides triggered by the heavy rains; others died from drowning.

Among the dead, was a schoolteacher who was buried in a landslide on Thursday as she traveled back home from school in Quang Ngai province. More than 50 rescuers worked to find her. Huynh Thi Kim Yen’s body was discovered on Friday and returned to her family members.

“Our forces are trying to clear the road,” said Phan Van On, head of the Committee for Flood and Storm Control in Quang Ngai province. “Rescue efforts were difficult because of the heavy rains. Fortunately, the rains are finally easing up.”

More rains are expected in the next few days, however, when a new tropical storm is expected to form over the South China sea, according to the central Hydro-Meteorology Forecasting Center in Hanoi. Winds could be as high as 120 kilometres per hour.,death-toll-rises-in-central-vietnam-post-floods.html

Vietnam still slack on anti-graft: int’l donors

International donors are concerned there’s not enough being done to fight corruption in Vietnam, a meeting on anticorruption measures in Hanoi heard Friday.

The Counselor of the Dutch Embassy, Van Loosdrecht, said despite a turn around in anti-graft in the country the fight was mostly being targeted at corruption at the grassroots level.

Donors at the meeting said that Vietnam had established special legal institutions but was still not doing enough work to combat graft, while a Finish Embassy representative pointed out the potential conflict of interest of appointing provincial mayors as chairs of their anti-corruption steering committees.

In addition media agencies in Vietnam have limited access to information in order to combat corruption, international delegates said.

“In recent years, Vietnam has made progress… and there are now pockets of excellence within the state media.

But myriad problems persist which, if not tackled, will severely reduce the media’s ability to combat corruption,” former journalist and Senior International Consultant Catherine McKinley said.

She said these problems included: inconsistent and poorly implemented legislation, a shortage of financing options, outdated and poorly resourced training facilities.”

However, the Government Inspectorate Chief Tran Van Truyen said the assessment that anticorruption in Vietnam is slacking up is due to a lack of information.

He said the anti-corruption steering committees were conducting investigations more thoroughly, which was why they were handling fewer cases.

He stated that no one, no matter how high the position, was immune to investigation and the law.

Vietnam will soon list categories of classified information – with only national security-related documents to be kept secret, Truyen said.

The government is also focusing on intensifying asset disclosure, making information, policies and administrative procedures more transparent, and improving the media’s role in the fight, he noted.

East-West Highway corruption probe

The country’s international image has been damaged by the case of a Ho Chi Minh City official who allegedly received bribes from executives of Japan’s Pacific Consultants International (PCI), the office manager of the Central Anti-Corruption Steering Committee, Vu Tien Chien, told reporters on the sideline of the meeting.

Last week, HCMC authorities suspended Huynh Ngoc Si, deputy head of the Department of Transport and chief of the East-West Highway and HCMC Water Environment Project while they investigate claims made in a Tokyo court that Si had taken more than US$2 million in bribes from PCI in exchange for helping the firm win consulting contracts in the highway project.

The government is actively tackling the case in an unbiased manner according to Vietnamese and international laws, Chien said, adding that the Central Anti-Corruption Steering Committee is closely following the case.

World Bank warning

In related news the World Bank (WB) would stop lending money to Vietnam if it discovered any wrongdoings regarding official development assistance (ODA) funding, the acting Country Director of the World Bank in Vietnam, Martin Rama warned Friday at a press briefing about the Consultative Group Meeting slated for December 4-5 in Hanoi.

WB has committed to offer more assistance to Vietnam, Rama said.

Early this year, Vietnam was put on the list of five developing countries with low incomes which will annually receive WB preferential loans of $1.5 billion over the next three years, the WB country director said.

Reported by Bao Van