Hanoi bans New Year gift-giving to curb bribery

Street venders walking at a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Nov 18, 2016.
Street venders walking at a street in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Nov 18, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

Officials take advantage of tradition to curry favour with bosses, media reports say

HANOI • In what appears to be a departure from standard procedure,Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has banned government officials from offering gifts to their superiors for the upcoming Lunar New Year, known locally as Tet.

"I have instructed them (government officials) not to pay any visit to the Prime Minister or other senior government, ministry and agency officials," Mr Phuc said at a monthly Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. Online news site VN Express International reported that he said any kind of Tet gifts would also be prohibited.

He said the "entire administrative system" that includes government officials from central to local levels must follow suit.

In mid-November, Mr Phuc approved a seven-day Tet break for the country's biggest holiday from Jan 26 to Feb 1.

Traditionally, Vietnamese people offer gifts during festivals, especially Tet, which falls on Jan 28 next year. But in many cases these gifts are merely a camouflage for bribery that officials use to curry favour with their bosses, according to media reports.

According to VN Express International, last year the Anti-Corruption Bureau under the Government Inspectorate encouraged citizens to report corruption cases before Tet, via three hotlines.

Since taking office in April this year, Mr Phuc has pressed ahead with what he calls an austerity drive.

His efforts come at a time when Vietnam is struggling with high public debt. The national debt reached more than 2,600 trillion Vietnamese dong (S$164 billion) as of the end of last year, equal to 62.2 per cent of the nation's gross domestic product.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline 'Hanoi bans New Year gift-giving to curb bribery'. Print Edition | Subscribe