Dear Mr. Trần Đức Lượng, Deputy Inspector General, Government Inspectorate,
Dear Mr. Lê Văn Lân, Deputy Head of the Office of the Steering Committee on Anticorruption,
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
At the beginning of 2012 my New Year’s message was simple: “Shine a light to reduce corruption in Vietnam.” I am very happy to be here today to see that this is coming true in some fashion in 2012, in more ways than one.
The report that the Government Inspectorate and the World Bank is launching today shines a light on corruption. There are few issues today which are so widely acknowledged to be a problem, yet so little is really known about, as corruption.
Although everyone acknowledges the problem, and a range of measures have been introduced over the years to try to reduce corruption, the answers to some basic questions are too often left to guess-work and anecdote:
- Why is corruption so widespread?
- Why it is so difficult to eradicate?
- How does corruption work?
- Of the many measures that have been introduced, which ones are succeeding and which ones are failing?
- What should be the priorities for the coming years?
The report that we jointly release today shines a light on these questions.
When the government asked for help conducting this study, the Bank and development partners UK-DFID and UNDP were honored to be able to respond.
This was a process that was completely led by the Government of Vietnam. The Government Inspectorate and the Office of the Steering Committee on Anti-corruption of Vietnam led the exercise, playing a hands-on role throughout the entire process, from designing the survey methodology and questionnaires, to working with local counterparts to ensure success of the fieldwork. GI and OSCAC also ensured that the process had the full support of a range of stakeholders, convening an Advisory Board including members from the Office of the Government, VCCI, the VFF and others, both at inception and to review the initial findings from the surveys. Throughout this process, our team has consistently remarked on the strong leadership and careful attention to quality provided by the team at GI and OSCAC. They helped shine a light through the darkness in leading this process.
I would also like to take a moment to put the fight against corruption in context. At the World Bank, we learned the hard way that we cannot succeed at our core mission of ending poverty without also addressing the “cancer of corruption”. Those were the words used by our former president 16 years ago. Before that time, the development community may have disliked corruption, but had not come to grips with the harm that it causes to equity, to efficiency, and to the development process. In the years since then we have moved anticorruption higher on our own agenda.
The surveys being discussed today help to bring the harm that corruption causes into stark relief. As the report points out, asking people how concerned they are about corruption tells only part of the story. While corruption is, indeed, among the issues that citizens, firms, and public officials are most concerned about, many of the other problems that concern people are also related to corruption. The surveys show the extent of corruption in the traffic police, schools, health system, and land management among others. Trying to address challenges such as traffic safety, education, health, and environmental degradation—all of which cause concern among many people—without also addressing the corruption that undermines the fairness and efficiency of those systems is like trying to grow trees while ignoring the disease that rots the roots. Indeed, the World Bank’s new Country Partnership Strategy places primacy on governance as a theme that is fundamental for all that we do.
Although a report such as this inevitably highlights problems, it is reassuring that it also shines a light on constructive messages about how to address those problems.
As the report and my colleague’s presentation will make clear, the system of corruption is fed by both the demand and supply sides, creating a vicious circle of bureaucratic problems and the unofficial payments that are demanded or offered to solve those problems. More often than not, those payments are initiated by the supply side.
Let me be clear: this is not about blaming or pointing a finger, it is rather about being honest about the problem and then thinking creatively about solutions. When the problem of corruption is generated in part by the supply side, the need to change societal attitudes is even clearer. Firms and citizens need to know that they have alternatives to bribery; and where no alternatives exist, Vietnam’s leaders need to create them. The surveys also show that firms that seek out alternatives to bribery actually perform better. What better message to send to Vietnam’s business community!
Many measures have been adopted in the past seven years with hopes of reducing corruption. The report we release today shines a light on what is working and not working. The report shows convincingly that the districts and provinces that more fully implement policies on openness and transparency really do have lower levels of corruption! Shining a light really does reduce corruption. Districts and provinces that more fully implement other policies, such as those on entitlements, transfers of officials, and administrative reforms, also have lower levels of corruption. Establishing mechanisms to ensure that these policies are all more fully implemented would help to reduce corruption nationwide.
The surveys clearly show the need to renew vigor for anticorruption. They also show that this anticorruption battle is one that can be won and it is absolutely possible to reduce corruption. Vietnam’s aspirations for modernity and prosperity demand nothing less.
In a nutshell, the key message of the report is that corruption is a serious problem, but not an insurmountable problem. Real accountability and transparency are the modern institutions needed for Vietnam's next phase of development.
Before I close, I would like to reiterate our appreciation for the strong leadership that GI has provided throughout this process and congratulate the government for making the findings of the study publicly available. Transparency is not just a slogan, but a reality when it comes to these results.
I would also like to express our gratitude for the support, both financial and technical, of our development partners, UK-DFID and UNDP throughout this process. This is truly a joint effort.
Although my remarks highlight the rays of sunshine that I see today, we have to also be cognizant of the magnitude of the challenge ahead. Surveys will not end corruption. A report will not end corruption. They can only shine a light on what needs to be done. It is up to Vietnam’s leaders—political leaders, people’s elected representatives, leaders of the business community, civil society and citizens groups—to shift the balance from shadow to light, from corruption to integrity—to make change happen. As Vietnam moves into the ranks of middle income countries, the time to modernize its institutions for fighting corruption is now.