Faced with new riches in the captured South and still serious shortages in the North, increasing numbers of Communist Party officials in Vietnam are celebrating peacetime by including in widespread corruption.
Official Hanoi broadcasts and reports from refugees reaching here say that high-placed Communist officials have turned property for personal use and accepted bribes, particularly from people trying to leave the country. The incidents have become so serious that the party's Central Committee secretariat in Hanoi has issued a directive against what it calls "negative practices in socio-economic life."
"Presently, in both the South and North, embebzzlement of state property, bribery, unlawful practices and other negative manifestations in state organs and society are increasing in both frequency and seriousness," the directive says. Even in the North, after two decades of communist rule officials have blinked at quote" gambling, drinking, love affairs and fraud," a Hanoi newspaper said.
A series of official warnings against corruption have referred to a January, 1974 anti-graft regulation promulgated in the north before reunification. It apparently fell by the wayside because of resistance for the powerful network of corrupt officials and because of the need to concentrate on the final push to defeat the South in 1975.
The nationwide directive says pointedly that "the most noteworthy" shortcoming of the anti-corruption effort "to deal strictly with violations involving ranking and influntial officials."
Refugees and foreign analysts here famiilar with Vietnam say they have heard many stories of Communist officials coming down from the North to extort bribes and appropriate property in the South. Some say they are surprised, however, to see public notice taken of problems in the North. The directives speak of "dangerous elements and professional and diehard hoodlums" in the northern cities of Hanoi and Haiphong, as well as in the former southern capital of Saigon, new renamed Ho Chi Minh City.
An article in the official Communist Party newspaper Nhan Dan, published in Hanoi, reported widespread black-market activities along the North's Red River delta. "On almost all the river transport routes in the delta, encroachments on state property take place, and on the Red, Chanh, Lach Tray, Luoc, Thai Binh, Cau, Thuong, Dao and other rivers there have been sprung up shops which receive, buy and sell the goods stolen by boatmen. The transactions of those shops are diverse, bold and subtle, and they move the goods in question very quickly. Leaders of local communications agencies have observed that tons of fuel and goods such as cement, fertilizer, coal and grain are offered for sale, the newspaper said.
Many peasants have left their farm cooperatives to turn a profit in these "floating markekts," the newspaper said, "and this gives rise to gambling, drinking, love affairs and fraud."
British Vietnam scholar P.J. Honey has argued that "corruption of the kind, with theft of state property, black-marketeering in score commodities and the like, has gone on for many years in North Vietnam, the product of harsh wartime conditions and material scarcity."
In the South, it has been a natural consequence of people abandoning property when they fled the country in 1975 or when they were hauled a-way to the so-called re-education camps for their involvement with the defeated, American-backed South Vietnam government.
In addition, many persons who have left the country legally since 1975, such as ethnic Chinese immigrants to Hong Kong, say that Vietnamese officials collected huge sums in gold or other valuables in exchange for exit permits. The Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post, citing interviews with refugees and other sources reported this summer that a well-organized syndicate in Vietnam, including civilian and military officials, was making a fortune in the refugee business. The syndicate allegedly charged about $8,000 in gold per medium sized family to smuggle people from Saigon to the coastal city of Danang, where they boarded boats for Hong Kong.
Vietnam's drought and bad harvest have only increased the incentive for corruption. An official broadcast this month referring to "corruption and pilferage" in agricultural units said the losses from "lapses in management" were as serious as those from "complicated changes in weather conditions."
Hanoi's candid reports of its corruption problem indicate that some individuals who have complained about official graft have found themselves silenced by criminal charges filed by te corrupt officials. While calling for the masses to reveal shortcomings in their superiors, the nationwide directive said "any case which has been incorrectly dealt with must be revised. Any person who has been wrongly convicted must be absolved and rehabilitated."