I was chatting to our housekeeper Nga one recent morning over breakfast. She is a single parent with a fifteen-year old son. She was telling me about how she had to give “cash gifts” to her son’s teacher several times a year. I asked her what would happen if she did not give the gifts. She replied “Then my son might get into trouble”.
I was telling her about the situation in Cambodia where I used to work for several years. Corruption was pervasive at all levels of society there. Every morning, little children had to bring cash to their teacher. Otherwise, they would not be allowed to sit in the classroom. And they would probably not pass the exam.
I asked Nga whether her son would pass his exams if she didn’t pay the “gifts”. She gave me an incredulous look and said “Probably not!”
Nga is not the only parent facing this problem in Viet Nam. Many parents give money to teachers to make sure that they pay proper attention to their children in the classroom. They give money to the doctors at the public district hospital when they need medical attention. They give money to obtain personal papers at the commune level. The list goes on. Hard-earned cash given away to unscrupulous and underpaid civil servants.
We know that it is the poorest and most marginalized individuals who suffer the most from corruption. Their meagre resources should be spent on food, health or education, rather than bribes.
Here in Viet Nam, there is new momentum to fight corruption.
A new Anti-Corruption Law is under consideration. Measures are being explored to improve the enforcement and monitoring of anti-corruption laws and policies. For instance, the Government Inspectorate, which is the national anti-corruption agency, is adopting a tool for provinces to assess their anti-corruption efforts. This tool had been developed in South Korea, and adjusted to the Vietnamese context.
Addressing corruption requires a whole of society approach. There is finally recognition that the private sector also plays a crucial role in combatting corruption and promoting business integrity. More companies want a fair business environment.
Most business executives have good intentions. They just need better guidance. When to accept a gift? When not to? From whom? When the new Anti-Corruption Law is passed, Vietnamese companies will have to adopt Codes of Conduct and put in place internal control mechanisms.
UNDP has been helping the Vietnamese agencies by sharing best practices from other countries and providing expert advice on new anti-corruption legislation and policies. Under a new project funded by the UK Prosperity Fund, UNDP will also work with the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) to promote the business integrity agenda in Viet Nam.
No country can beat corruption overnight, it is a process that will require implementation. But every step taken in the right direction helps. Eventually, I believe, Nga will pay less for services she and her family deserve to receive, without having to pay a bribe.