Last updated: Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Unofficial Cost Remains Financial Burden for BusinessesPosted: Tuesday, February 28, 2012
The Integrity and Transparency in Business Initiative for Vietnam (ITBI) is a project deployed by the Office for Sustainable Development (SDforB) and the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI). This is an innovative anti-corruption project in Vietnam. It mobilises the business community in Vietnam around the challenges of corruption. Mr Nguyen Quang Vinh, Director of SDforB, grants an interview on integrity and transparency. Minh Ngoc reports.
Mr Vinh said this project aims at eliminating corruption within the business environment, basing on the relationship between businesses and public authorities. In this relationship, businesses are seen as the ‘supplier’ (that gives bribes) and public authorities are regarded as the ‘demand’ (that has good conditions to get bribes). What we need to do is to proactively reduce the supply. Then, we will help businesses recognise behaviours that may increase corruption. Once they understand, they will change from bribing officials to saying no to this act. Besides, they will proactively have action plans, programmes and codes of conduct against corruption in their companies.
Indeed, bribing officials - the act considered to increase corruption - is the only resort of enterprises. Without doing it, wouldn’t they face trouble from public authorities?
Your opinion, to some extent, indulges in sophism. As far as I am concerned, many businesses are willing to pay bribes when they work with public authorities on fears of confronting troubles. They even give bribes for no clear reason. Meanwhile, what they should do is to know about legal regulations, documents and procedures when they ask for something or do something. If they know well about these things, public authorities will follow their due working processes and they do not need to pay anything else. I think paying-off has become a conditional reflex of enterprises when they meet public authorities. This actuality exists partly because of their limited capabilities. They are unsure of legal regulations or unaware of their encouragement for corruption. For that reason, one of the first things to be done in the fight against corruption is to guide enterprises to raise awareness and capacity and to introduce instruments and documents to them.
What is your viewpoint on corruption in Vietnam now?
Corruption appears in many different places in Vietnam. Patients pay sweeteners to have painless injections. Traffic users pay backhanders to traffic warrens to have their vehicles not seized. Construction companies pay kickbacks to have construction permits. Corruption is also seen in customs, taxation offices, banks and other places. Perhaps, corruption is present everywhere.
Luckily, this ‘disease’ is curable. Indeed, not all doctors and nurses demand backhanders. Sometimes, patients beg to give them to rest assured in their treatments. On the road, traffic users will never be fined if they observe traffic laws.
However, some officials still harass businesses although they understand the laws well and have enough documents. In this situation, they should bravely bring the act of harassment to light.
But, denouncing the act of corruption may send whistleblowers into trouble because authorities will take revenge on them.
That’s right. To prevent corruption, whistleblowers must be protected. Then, whistleblowers dare to stand up to denounce acts of corruption. Troublemakers must be seriously punished for their acts and they will dare not to do again. As a result, corruption will be gradually reduced.
The Law on Anti-corruption has regulations on protecting whistleblowers. The Government Inspectorate also regularly hosts seminars on regulations and mechanisms on whistleblower protection. However, these activities are not widely informed and whistleblower protection system remains sparse. Hence, this system is not a trusted place for corruption whistleblowers.
Also because of this reality, the anti-corruption fight cannot generate a result immediately. We will reduce it gradually. This is a time-consuming effort.
How do you think about “underground fees” in total business costs of enterprises? Where is the boundary between gifts and bribes?
It is very difficult to know underground fees a company pays. Thus, it is impossible to make a sum in Vietnam. But, according to international researches, unofficial payments account for 10 percent of business costs in Vietnam.
In practice, many multinational corporations and international organisations have very clear, transparent and specific regulations on the level and value of material gifts, hospitality costs and event costs. I think this is a good practice Vietnamese enterprises can fully follow.
Normally, corrupt people are usually people in power or with direct influence on the give-and-take process. Why was this group not mentioned in the anti-corruption programme?
Corruption is the son of people in power. They abuse their powers for personal interests. Thus, our purpose is to support enterprises to stop bribing and build anti-corruption programmes for their own.
To assess the current state of corruption from the angle of business - public authority relationship, the ITBI project conducted researches and surveys on the status of corruption within Vietnamese enterprises.
It focused on two relationships: Businesses with public authorities and businesses with businesses. The research result is expected to be released in March. We hope that it will be partly support for the fight against corruption in Vietnam.