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March 2, 2024

‘The last 2 decent people in the current Vietnamese Communist regime.’

Vietnam’s Communist Party ended last year’s anti-corruption drive with 2022’s highest-profile dismissals, removing two senior leaders from its Central Committee.

Some commentators expressed surprise and regret over the Dec. 30 decision, which effectively ended Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam’s roles as deputy prime ministers. Minh was also excluded from the Politburo, the Party’s most powerful body.

Germany-based lawyer Nguyen Van Dai told RFA: “People consider these two men to be the last two decent people in the current Vietnamese Communist regime.” He said he didn’t see their removal as a fight against corruption but rather “a struggle for power.”

Vu Duc Dam served for seven years as secretary and assistant to Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet before going on to work as deputy director of the government’s international relations department and head of its ASEAN department.

When the COVID-19 pandemic tore through Vietnam in 2021 many blamed Dam — as deputy prime minister in charge of healthcare — for the deaths of tens of thousands of people locked down in southern provinces. And while the Communist Party never gave a reason for removing him from the Central Committee last month, he is widely-seen as the fall guy for the Viet A COVID test kit scandal. Viet A’s chief executive officer admitted to bribing officials the equivalent of U.S.$34 million in order to win contracts to sell substandard kits to hospitals at a 45% markup, earning his company U.S.$172 million in profits.

Pham Binh Minh followed the career of his father, the late Foreign Minister Nguyen Co Thach (real name Pham Van Cuong). Before becoming deputy prime minister Minh was in charge of foreign affairs and later took on some responsibility for domestic affairs.

As the deputy prime minister focusing on international issues, Minh was blamed for the ‘repatriation flights’ scandal, where Vietnamese officials were accused of taking bribes to repatriate citizens stranded abroad during the COVID pandemic.

“Pham Binh Minh is said to have not closely monitored the repatriation flights of Vietnamese citizens stranded abroad due to COVID-19,” Carl Thayer, a professor at the Australian Defense Force Academy in Canberra told RFA.

“An extensive network of foreign affairs officials has been implicated in accepting bribes in exchange for seats on these planes,” said the Vietnam expert, adding that Minh should be disciplined if he benefited personally and should also be held responsible if he knew nothing or did nothing about the bribery.

Vietnam’s National Assembly is expected to elect to new deputy prime ministers at its next scheduled meeting on Thursday.

Former head of the Central Committee for Mass Mobilization, Nguyen Khac Mai, told RFA the big question is whether the Party will dare to carry out radical reform in its selection of senior leaders or whether it will give the public more say in the selection of decision makers.

Article 4 of the Constitution stipulates that “The Communist Party of Vietnam is the sole force leading the State and society,” but Mai said there is no regulation forcing the Party to make decisions in isolation.

“Even when the Central Committee of the Party are responsible for Article 4 of the Constitution, they must be responsible to the people, to the nation,” he said. “All the people should have a voice in the election of state officials.”

Translated by RFA Vietnamese. Written in English by Mike Firn.

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