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To Tell or Not To Tell Them About My Personal Assets: A General Secretary’s Dilemma
In a surprising move right before the 7th Party Central Committee plenary meeting, a group of Vietnamese Communist Party (VCP) members and citizens have publicly demanded – in a letter – that the General Secretary, Nguyễn Phú Trọng, discloses his personal assets in according with the VCP’s own rules.
The demand was quickly spread on social media in Vietnam in the past three days.
The plenary meeting, which commences on Monday, May 7, 2018, in Vietnam, concentrates on discussions involving the integrity, capacity, and merits of the Party’s strategic personnel.
The timing of both the letter and the plenary meeting is at the high of the anti-graft campaign initiated by the Party’s chief in the past two years, right after his power was successfully consolidated at the last Party’s Congress in 2016.
For a long time, the question concerning personal assets of Party’s leaders and high officials has been on the mind of the people in Vietnam where corruption is high.
But this is probably the first time that a group of Party’s members publicly asking the Head of the Party to be transparent about his own assets and declare them.
Mr. Trọng, of course, could keep silent and does not have to respond to the letter.
Dr. Nguyễn Quang A, a long-time dissident intellect and one of the signatories of this letter, is not optimistic either: “I believe it is highly probable that he would not respond at all”.
While Trọng could continue to stay in his safe zone and only respond to the public and the press in pre-arranged conferences as he has done in the past, this time, there are three important reasons for him to consider responding to this written demand from his own comrades.
Trọng should have his assets declaration form ready because the laws required him to do so.
Vietnam’s laws required that officials – which include the VCP leaders – have to prepare an annual assets declaration form.
Accordingly, “officials are defined as Vietnamese citizens who are either elected, appointed, or approved to hold a position or title, according to their terms in the VCP’s system.” – (Article 4, Vietnam Law on Cadres and Civil Servants).
Trọng is not only the General Secretary, he is also a current member of the National Assembly.
Vietnam’s laws then also require that all candidates running for the National Assembly have to submit assets declaration forms prior to the election.
This is done in according to the 2012 amendments to the Law on Preventing Corruption.
If Trọng refuses, he indirectly declares he is above not only the law but the Party as well.
As the General Secretary who famously declares: “the Constitution (of Vietnam) is the most important legal document after the VCP’s Manifesto,” Trọng must act according to the Secretariat of the VCP’s Decision 99/QD-TW, issued on October 3, 2017, where it clearly states that the assets of all Party’s leaders “must be public for the people to know.”
One must understand the crucial role of the Secretariat in the VCP and how powerful this body is to appreciate Decision 99/QD-TW. According to the VCP’s rules, this is the body which governs the daily operation of the Party. Mr. Trọng is also a member of the Secretariat.
If he refuses to comply with the Secretariat’s decision, then he has violated the core principle of the Communist Party: centralized democracy. The VCP operates in a system where the minority must obey the majority; subordinates must obey upper management; an individual must obey the organization.
Thus, while an individual may disagree with a decision of the Party, that individual must still “strictly complies”.
As a person who dedicates his life to sustain the Party, Mr. Trọng must know that this principle decides the VCP’s survival. If he doesn’t respect it, then he has put himself above the Party.
No one will believe Trọng is committed to fighting corruption when he refuses to be transparent about his own assets.
Transparency International ranked Vietnam as the second most corrupted country in Asia after India in March 2017.
The VCP’s chief has initiated an ambitious campaign against corruption in the past two years, a Vietnamese version of Xi Jinping’s “killing tigers, swatting flies.”
Earlier this year, he reaffirmed such commitment to weed out corruption at all levels by famously declared there would be “no off-limit zones” for the campaign.
The slogan “Burn the Furnace” became well-known to many Vietnamese, where corrupted officials are seen as “wood logs” ready to be thrown into the fire.
Trinh Xuan Thanh – a more famous “wood log” who was sentenced to life in prison earlier this year – gained international attention when German police alleged that Vietnamese secret services had kidnapped Thanh in broad daylight in the middle of Berlin last summer.
Vietnam insisted that Thanh came back to Vietnam voluntarily to turn himself in.
While the international community may think that repairing a deteriorating diplomatic relationship with Germany is crucial for Vietnam, such task is still secondary when compares to maintaining the VCP’s legitimacy with its own people.
The public in Vietnam is clearly divided over Trinh Xuan Thanh’s case.
One of the main reason for those who support the government’s conducts – including the alleged kidnapping – in such matter is because they want to believe in the commitment of the Party and of Mr. Trọng in fighting against corruption.
But their belief does not come blindly.
An important question has been lurking among the public in Vietnam – and yet no one has dared to raise it – was whether Trọng has ever committed corruption himself and if that is the case, then would he be prosecuted as well?
An even more important question concerns over the legitimacy of this “Burn the Furnace” campaign initiated by Trọng. Is he really committed to fighting against corruption or is he using such a campaign to target and eliminate other factions within the VCP?
For now, most people in Vietnam probably would not go that far to question Trọng’s intention over his anti-graft campaign, but they do want to know whether he is a “clean” official.
And for this, Trọng would need to be transparent about his own assets by providing to the public his assets declaration form according to laws.
Social activist Nguyễn Anh Tuấn comments, “whether Mr. Trọng is transparent about his own assets will say a lot about the legitimacy of the anti-corruption campaign he has initiated”.
“If he is transparent about his assets, then it is great because his subordinates would have no excuse to delay declaring their own. The public and the press will have some basis for monitoring officials”.
“On the contrary, if he ignores the people’s request this time, then they have reasons to question his commitment to fighting corruption”.