The Central Committee of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party further demoted prominent party official Dinh La Thang on Wednesday, removing him as party chief of the country’s commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City for misconduct while he served as the head of state-run oil giant PetroVietnam.
On May 7, the 12th Party Central Committee decided to remove Thang, 56, from the powerful 19-member Politburo and issue him an official warning based on more than 90 percent of votes, for committing “very serious mistakes and violations” while leading PetroVietnam between 2009 and 2011.
On Monday, the party announced on its website that it had removed Thang as party chief of Ho Chi Minh City and reassigned him as vice head of the central party's economic committee. Nguyen Thien Nhan—head of Vietnam's Fatherland Front and a politburo member—will take Thang’s place, it said.
The official Tuoi Tre news quoted Thang calling the party’s decision to remove him from the politburo “reasonable” and apologizing to the people and the party for his “mistakes” at PetroVietnam.
The rare decision to discipline a Politburo member followed an April recommendation by the party’s Inspection Committee that the Central Committee consider disciplinary measures against Thang for greenlighting unregulated investments that caused the company losses of nearly U.S. $40 million.
The committee also blamed Thang for failing to appropriately oversee four major projects while head of the company, which led to their suspension and financial losses totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.
Thang was appointed transport minister in 2011, before being elected to the Politburo and appointed secretary of the Communist Party Organization of the country’s commercial capital Ho Chi Minh City, formerly known as Saigon, early last year.
It is highly unusual for a member of Vietnam’s powerful Politburo to face sanctions. Previous disciplinary actions against Politburo members have included warnings and the stripping of party membership.
Thang remains part of the 180-member Central Committee of the Communist Party.
Blogger and freelance journalist Truong Duy Nhat told RFA’s Vietnamese Service that reassigning Thang to the party’s Economic Committee was a mistake because of his previous mismanagement of funds.
“Dinh La Thang was dismissed from the Politburo because of his financial mistakes and violations at PetroVietnam, but now he has been appointed deputy chief of the party's Economic Committee—how can he manage this organization?” Nhat wondered.
“It doesn’t make sense to appoint a person who made finance-related mistakes to an economic body!”
Nguyen Quang A, an economist and dissident, noted that it is common practice for the Communist Party to demote “disgraced” individuals to roles that are largely research-oriented.
“If he is smart and experienced in economics, then he might be able to contribute a lot to his new position,” he said.
“The political system has ruined many kind and talented people. If it hadn’t been Dinh La Thang, another person would have made the same mistakes, because they are forced to follow Communist Party policy.”
New party secretary
Meanwhile, Nguyen Thien Nhan, 63, will replace Thang as party chief of Ho Chi Minh City, marking a second stint for the Harvard-trained technocrat in the country’s economic hub.
Nhan served as deputy mayor of Ho Chi Minh City from 1999 until he was appointed education minister and sent to Vietnam’s capital Hanoi in 2006. He was later elected to the Politburo and made president of the Fatherland Front, a pro-government organization tasked with “building national unity.”
The official Vietnam News Agency quoted Nhan during his inauguration speech Wednesday as saying that he had learnt much during his 11 years of work in Hanoi, “one of which is the Party’s discipline.”
“An official has to judge himself based on the pleasure of the people he serves,” Nhan said, adding that he was thankful for the contributions Thang had made to Ho Chi Minh City while party chief, and pledging to do his best to further develop Vietnam’s largest city in his new role.
Reactions to Nhan’s appointment were mixed, with some observers expressing hope he can work on behalf of the city’s interests and others suggesting that internal politics would prevent him from being an effective leader.
Huy, a resident of Ho Chi Minh City, told RFA that with his former experience in the city, Nhan was likely to do well as party chief there.
“Nhan was deputy mayor of Ho Chi Minh City for a long time and he was good at what he did,” Huy said.
Lawyer Tran Quoc Thuan called the city “dynamic” and said that its leaders can “benefit from that strength.”
“A person with good awareness will find it easy to promote this characteristic [of the city],” he said.
“Most leaders have not been that good, but Nguyen Thien Nhan has a lot of experience working for the central government, so I hope he will be able to promote the strengths of Saigon.”
Journalist Pham Chi Dung said that as deputy mayor of Ho Chi Minh City he was unable to work effectively because he did not have a good relationship with then-party chief Le Thanh Hai.
Nhan lobbied for a move to the central government and was appointed education minister, but Dung said that during his tenure “the education sector improved little.”
“If Nhan is not about to improve his shortcomings in management and not brave enough to deal with the negatives, then he’ll end up doing things [similar to when he was] at the Ministry of Education, which was ineffective.”
Trung, another resident of Ho Chi Minh City, told RFA that it mattered little who is running the show in the commercial capital.
“One person can’t change the whole system, so I don’t care anymore about who is going to be in charge,” he said.
“The only reason to discuss this is if the whole system is changed. Until then, there is nothing that a new person can do.”
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.