For some, the law is toothless
The Saigon Times Daily
It is generally agreed that corruption is widespread, and comes in a vast array of forms despite the presence of various laws and under-laws to steer the fight against such crimes. It can be valuable gifts given to authorities to buy “insurance”; it can be kickbacks when a project is approved or one investor is favored over another; it can be the cost of a project being blown out of proportion so that the investor can claw back bigger funds from the State or society – including private projects like what has been found in build-operate-transfer (BOT) road projects.
Still, the most dangerous form of corruption is perhaps the cases therein the culprits believe that the law cannot reach them, or in other words, the law is toothless.
Local media last week gave a wide coverage on such a case at Gia Lai Province’s Department of Health following findings announced by State Audit of Vietnam.
As per the auditor’s report issued in late January, tens of billions of Vietnam dong evaporated from just a few public procurement deals conducted by hospitals under the department between 2013 and 2015.
For example, the medical equipment purchase package for the Tuberculosis and Lung Hospital was claimed at VND22.3 billion, far above the verified cost of VND12.1 billion; and a respiratory aid machine purchased for Gia Lai Hospital was put at VND10.1 billion compared to the real cost of VND6.6 billion. Similar tricks were found at other hospitals in the province, including Chu Puh District Hospital with the healthcare equipment price overstated at VND22.1 billion, compared to the original cost of VND9.6 billion.
Similar irregularities are also found in other bidding packages to buy drugs and materials for healthcare facilities in the province, each deal causing losses of billions of Vietnam dong.
In most cases, it is not at all difficult for State auditors to uncover such irregularities, especially in high-value packages where inspections are imperative under the law. The question is why the people involved still take risks to falsify the costs of such deals for illegal gains.
Such people, having learned of corruption cases going unpunished, might have thought their behaviors could be concealed, or that they could buy “insurance” again when facing inspections. They may think that the law is toothless. This phenomenon is dangerous as it can easily multiply.
The above case at Gia Lai’s Department of Health to date is just the conclusion of State Audit. No charges will be filed until full explanations by the people involved are given. However, given widespread public concerns about huge assets of officials, given the country’s low ranking in the world’s corruption index, it is high time the rule of law be strengthened. Laws and regulations, especially those on anti-corruption, must be made more efficient and effective, if the country is to restore the confidence of the public and the business community.
The Saigon Times Daily