Identifier
Created
Classification
Origin
06HOCHIMINHCITY320
2006-03-28 11:44:00
UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Consulate Ho Chi Minh City
Cable title:  

HCMC MEDIA CONTINUES TO PRESS THE REFORM ENVELOPE

Tags:  PGOV PREL SOCI KCOR ECON VM 
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VZCZCXRO4057
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHNH RUEHPB
DE RUEHHM #0320/01 0871144
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 281144Z MAR 06
FM AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 0614
INFO RUCNARF/ASEAN REGIONAL FORUM COLLECTIVE
RUEHHI/AMEMBASSY HANOI PRIORITY 0456
RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH CITY 0641
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000320 

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SENSITIVE
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI KCOR ECON VM
SUBJECT: HCMC MEDIA CONTINUES TO PRESS THE REFORM ENVELOPE

REF: A) HCMC 229; B) HANOI 628

HO CHI MIN 00000320 001.2 OF 002


UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000320

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SENSITIVE
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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL SOCI KCOR ECON VM
SUBJECT: HCMC MEDIA CONTINUES TO PRESS THE REFORM ENVELOPE

REF: A) HCMC 229; B) HANOI 628

HO CHI MIN 00000320 001.2 OF 002



1. (SBU) Summary: In a series of articles that coincided with
the recently-concluded 14th Party Plenum, HCMC-based newspapers
continued a public push for reform. Emphasizing rule of law,
one of the articles questioned the hitherto-sacrosanct Article 4
of the Constitution, which codifies Communist Party supremacy.
During the plenum, HCMC newspapers also stepped up their
coverage of a major corruption scandal in the Ministry of
Transportation involving misuse of Official Development
Assistance (ODA). The reporting not only pilloried the
Ministry, but also attacked the Party's anti-corruption watchdog
for its lack of oversight. The corruption reporting may reflect
the behind-the-scenes fight for leadership positions in the
Party; two contacts linked General Secretary Nong Duc Manh to
officials netted in the corruption scandal. The continued press
reporting on reform-related issues and publication of other
articles advocating change is a challenge to Party officials who
have encouraged an end to the "public comment period" on
political reform proposals in advance of the Communist Party's
10th National Congress. End Summary.

Sustaining Public Debate: Rule of Law
--------------


2. (SBU) In the two weeks running up to the Party's 14th Plenum
and even while Party leaders were meeting in Hanoi, HCMC-based
national newspaper Tuoi Tre continued its public commentary on
reform in Vietnam. (On March 22, it carried a scholarly article
entitled "The Rule of Law" by one of the Party's legal
theoreticians, Nguyen Sy Dzung. Dzung, Deputy Chief of the
Office of the National Assembly in Hanoi and a current member of
the Prime Minister's research board, wrote that "the supremacy
of law must be put above the government and political parties".
Dzung cautioned against Vietnam adopting the "Chinese concept"
of rule of law, which he defined as the State using law to rule
its people (rule-by-law). In a separate article, Tuoi Tre
quoted Pham Chi Lan, another member of the Prime Minister's
research board and former chairwoman of the Vietnam Chamber of

Commerce and Industry, reiterating her view that, to accelerate
economic growth, the Party should drop its policy that the
State-owned sector act as the "leading force" in the economy.
On March 10, the Internet edition of Tuoi Tre also published an
article by Nguyen Khac Mai, a retired senior official of the
Party's Committee on Mass Mobilization. Mai argued that "to
exercise real democracy, Vietnam needs more freedom of speech
and freedom of press" and "true freedom of association."


3. (SBU) On March 17, HCMC-based Phap Luat "The Law" newspaper
ran an article that questioned the continuing relevance of
Article 4 of the Constitution, which defines the Communist
Party's role as the "leading force of the state and society."
The author, Tran Dinh But, a member of the Prime Minister's
research board and Vice Chairman of the HCMC Association of
Economic and Management Sciences, argued that Article 4 was
appropriate during wartime but now needed reconsideration. He
stated that "the Party cannot put itself above the law." He
also challenged the "socialist orientation" of the Party's "rule
of law" model outlined in its draft political report, arguing
that socialism is irrelevant to the establishment of rule of
law.


4. (SBU) In the run-up to the 14th Plenum, Phap Luat also
published two articles by HCMC-based attorney Le Cong Dinh.
One introduced the concepts of "separation of powers" and
"checks and balances." In his second article, Dinh argued that
the country is in a "crisis of trust," in which opportunists are
"feasting on the nation." He called on Vietnamese to overcome
their fears of change. (Note: Dinh, as a Vice-Chairman of the
HCMC Bar Association, attracted the ire of the Party when he
published an article calling for political pluralism in Vietnam
on the BBC Vietnamese language website. Party officials
reportedly urged Dinh to avoid further controversy. End Note.
See Ref A for more detail.)

Hitting Hard on Corruption
--------------


5. (SBU) HCMC dailies also continued their heavy (and critical)
coverage of a multi-million dollar corruption and gambling
scandal involving senior officials of an agency of the Ministry
of Transportation. During a raid on a gambling ring, the police
found that senior officials responsible for managing ODA-funded
transportation infrastructure projects -- the PMU-18 unit --
were betting millions of dollars on individual soccer games. In
its coverage, Tuoi Tre not only attacked the Ministry for its
lack of oversight, but also showcased the ineffectiveness of the
Party's "6/2 Committee," its internal waste, malfeasance and
anti-corruption watchdog. The newspaper described in detail the
lifestyle, ill-gotten assets, and mistresses of the Director of
PMU-18 (Project Management Unit),who also was the head of the
PMU-18 Party cell. Tuoi Tre ran similar exposes of the previous

HO CHI MIN 00000320 002.2 OF 002


heads of PMU-18 and of the son-in-law of Vice Minister of
Transportation Nguyen Viet Tien, indirectly accusing the
son-in-law of money laundering for Tien, and publishing detailed
descriptions of the main culprits' networks of agencies,
relationships and companies that are described as "the
backyard". (Tien was the first director of PMU-18.) Even the
usually bland and statist Saigon Giai Phong, the official
mouthpiece of the Party in HCMC, carried reports strongly
critical of the Party in the PMU-18 case.


6. (SBU) Comment: The Party earlier invited comment on the
draft political report -- the policy framework for the upcoming
Party Congress -- for the month of February. The Party
subsequently made it clear that it considered the window for
public comment closed. In the past, failure to heed similar
deadlines has led to censure and punishment, but this has not
been the case thus far this year.


7. (SBU) The new series of corruption and reform articles
appears timed to coincide with and influence the Party's 14th
Plenum deliberations. HCMC media continued to broaden the scope
of discussion to encompass political and economic issues it had
avoided during the February-March round of comments on the
political report, focusing on issues such as the rule of law and
the role of State-owned enterprises in the economy. The
questioning of Article 4 of the Constitution appears
unprecedented.


8. (SBU) Although Tuoi Tre has been branding itself as an
anti-corruption watchdog (the pole position on its website, for
example, goes to a banner link allowing readers to download the
text of the new anti-corruption law passed in November 2005),
there also may be a political subtext to the aggressive
reporting on the PMU-18 corruption case. A reliable contact in
HCMC alleged that Vice Minister Tien is linked to Party General
Secretary Nong Duc Manh. This contact and others added that a

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relative of Manh's is an official in PMU-18. In any case, the
widening PMU-18 scandal has discomfited the Party enough for
Politburo member and Permanent Secretary of the Party Central
Committee Phan Dien to have spoken out in defense of the Party's
anti-corruption efforts in Nhan Dan, the Party's newspaper.
Dien is the head of the Party's anti-corruption "6/2" committee.
End Comment.
WINNICK