Cablegate: National Assembly Passes Security Law, Blasts Pm On

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.





E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: Hanoi 2380

1. (SBU) Summary. The National Assembly (NA) ended its
autumn session on December 4 after passing six new laws,
including two on publishing and national security. The
contents of the National Security law have not been
released, but they reportedly seek to rein in the military's
intelligence service. The most high-profile issue of the
session was corruption, however. For the first time, the
Prime Minister agreed to an open question session and was
faced with tough inquiries over both his personal
responsibility for systemic corruption and the Party's
determination to combat this problem. The active debate
during the session reflects the National Assembly's
continued efforts to develop a government watchdog role.
End Summary.

2. (U) During the National Assembly's autumn session, which
ran from October 25 to December 4, delegates passed laws on
competition, electricity, forest protection and development,
national security, publishing and the issuance of law-
regulated documents by nationwide People's Councils and
People's Committees. The legislature also held special
sessions for discussions on the education system and
infrastructure development. The National Assembly
subsequently passed resolutions on measures to be taken by
Government agencies to revamp the national education system
and rectify waste and corruption in public investment on
large infrastructure projects.

3. (SBU) Senior Colonel Tran Nhung from Quan Doi Nhan Dan
(People's Army) newspaper told Pol FSN that the law on
national security is designed to decrease the influence and
power of the counter-intelligence General Department Number
Two (GD2) of the Ministry of National Defense. The
department was reportedly given considerable power and free
rein under former President Le Duc Anh. Col. Nhung said the
national security law was passed under pressure from former
high-ranking military officials who had become victims of
illegal activities conducted by GD2. The department had
attempted to destroy the reputations of certain ranking
Party and military officials for the sake of factional
struggles within the Party. (Note: General Vo Nguyen Giap
wrote a letter to the Party Central Committee last January
condemning the activities of GD2 (Reftel). End note.) The
new law, which is unlikely ever to be publicly released,
reportedly places GD2 back under the jurisdiction of the
Ministry of National Defense, instead of having it as a
functional subordinate of the CPV Politburo, said Nhung.

4. (SBU) The new law on publishing requires that owners of
publishing houses, not authors of items to be published,
must be responsible for the "political quality" of
publications. It also allows private investors to
"participate in some parts of the publication process."
During the session, there was considerable debate among
delegates as to whether the law should allow the
establishment of non-State publishing houses, although this
was not included in the final document. Do Thu Ha, a
journalist from Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper, commented that
the publishing law at least acknowledges the fact that
private investors have been playing an important role in the
publishing industry.

5. (U) Poor planning and corruption in large GVN
infrastructure projects shaped a significant part of the
National Assembly's session and was widely reported in the
press. Delegates overwhelmingly opposed a GVN proposal to
put authority for the revamped State Audit Office under the
Government, arguing that, in order to make it autonomous, it
should report directly to the National Assembly. The office
currently exists as an agency attached to the Government,
but the Assembly is in preliminary discussions about a bill,
expected to be passed in 2005, that will strengthen the
institution. The revised Audit Office would begin operation
by 2006. The legislature also scheduled a bill on anti-
corruption to be debated in its spring 2005 session (and
eventually passed in its autumn session later that year.)

6. (SBU) On December 4, Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, in a
first for any PM, took questions from National Assembly
members during one of the routine Q&A sessions with cabinet
members that were televised live at the end of the session.
Questioning the PM, delegate Le Quang Binh, head of the
legislature's Board for People's Aspirations (which is
responsible for collecting public opinions and bringing them
to the National Assembly's attention), pointedly said that
there is widespread public concern about waste and losses on
investment in infrastructure construction, inefficient
investment of the State's budget and government corruption.
Delegate Duong Trung Quoc demanded the PM himself take
personal responsibility for the mistakes and wrongdoings of
his fellow ministers. Delegate Nguyen Ngoc Tran not only
requested that an inter-agency committee be set up soon to
coordinate anti-corruption efforts, but also questioned the
Prime Minister about the role of the CPV Politburo. "No
bureau/ministry is more powerful than the Politburo. The
issue remains whether it is determined to combat
corruption," Tran said. Colonel Tran Nhung commented to Pol
FSN that, "two years ago, no one could imagine" a delegate
making such a strong statement.

7. (U) PM Khai spent much of his time in the open session
explaining his anti-corruption plan for the years to come.
Khai proposed establishing an "independent" anti-corruption
office, separate from the State Audit Office, which would
coordinate inter-ministerial efforts to combat corruption.
Speaking to local press about the proposal, senior GVN
officials claimed there is a current lack of mechanisms,
policies and personnel to carry-out anti-corruption efforts.
The Government Inspectorate, which serves as the official
watchdog agency, is merely responsible for general oversight
of the fight against corruption. The new anti-corruption
office, once established, must be able to lay down specific
plans to combat corruption, opined Vu Pham Quyet Thang,
deputy head of the Government Inspectorate.

8. (SBU) Comment. The overall results of the autumn session
are emblematic of the role the National Assembly would like
to carve out for itself. The bold way that it seized upon
the corruption issue and the willingness of delegates to
question the dedication of the Party to tackling corruption
reflect both deep public concern about the issue as well as
the National Assembly's willingness to act as a "voice of
the people," even when it may embarrass the GVN. Lest one
attribute the legislature too much autonomy, however, the
Publishing Law is a good example of the body's limits.
Delegates initially spoke out broadly in support of the
creation of private publishing houses. However, when the
GVN -- presumably largely the security minded ministries --
weighed in behind closed doors, the final law came out
considerably more tepid. Finally the National Security Law,
which is of considerable importance, was dispatched quickly
and with little fanfare. It was likely decided at higher
levels and given to the legislature as a fait accompli. End


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