The Central Committee of Vietnam’s ruling Communist Party has voted to remove disgraced Ho Chi Minh City party chief Dinh La Thang from the country’s powerful Politburo for misconduct while he served as the head of state-run oil giant PetroVietnam, drawing mixed reactions from the public.
According to state media, the 12th Party Central Committee decided to remove Thang, 56, from the 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.
A party statement said Thang’s violations had been responsible for “sparking annoyance among officials, party members and people.”
The decision followed an April recommendation by the party’s Inspection Committee that the Central Committee and Politburo 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 Vietnam’s 19-member 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’s role as party secretary of Ho Chi Minh City is also likely to be cut short, as whoever occupies the position is required to hold Politburo membership.
Ho Chi Minh City-based journalist Pham Chi Dung told RFA’s Vietnamese Service Monday that Thang is likely to be removed from the party’s 180-member Central Committee.
“It is impossible to have a person who has committed ‘serious mistakes’ remain a member of the Central Committee,” Dung said.
“Going ahead, there will be comments and public questioning of why a person like Dinh La Thang is still in the Central Committee. The Politburo will then convene another meeting and the Central Committee will discuss removing Thang.”
Reaction to Thang’s sacking was mixed, with some sources expressing appreciation for the work he had done as a public servant and others skewering him for his performance as party chief in Ho Chi Minh City since taking over in 2016.
A teacher in Hanoi told RFA that Thang was the first official to step in with a “reasonable response” after Nguyen Van Quy, the head of police for Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Chanh district, ordered criminal proceedings against a restaurant owner last month for being five days late in obtaining a business registration certificate, in a case that attracted national attention.
“He had the police investigate and dismiss [Quy] and the police who caused the incident,” the teacher said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“If it had been the former party secretaries of Ho Chi Minh City, they’d have ignored [the owner’s plight].”
A businessman named Hoang Hai posted a message on his Facebook account in response to reports of Thang’s sacking, saying he was grateful for the infrastructure Thang had built in the country during his time as transportation minister.
“We have to thank him for all the work related to the roads, bridges and sewers that he directed to help Vietnam’s economy develop in recent years,” the message said.
Another Facebook user named Nguyen Tan Thanh said Thang’s removal was inevitable because he had sometimes worked to address public grievances against the government.
“Whoever does good things for the people will be ‘crushed,’” Thanh said in a post.
“I knew before that this would happen to you … Please stand up for him, people!”
Other sources were quick to criticize the party secretary for his work overseeing Ho Chi Minh City, saying he had made things worse in the city since being appointed.
One resident of the city told RFA that some civil society groups had wanted Thang to be punished even more severely than he was.
“Arrests, beatings, and demonstrations over the Formosa toxic waste spill [that devastated Vietnam’s central coast last year] have not decreased—instead they have increased,” said the source, who also declined to provide his name.
“[The authorities] have even forced activists into rehabilitation and detox centers.”
Another resident of Ho Chi Minh City noted that after Thang became party secretary, he vowed to help the city reclaim its status as “The Pearl of the Far East” after lagging behind in development in recent years.
“When he was appointed, he said it would only take three months to clear the city of crime,” the resident wrote in a comment to RFA.
“The following year, thefts increased. Then he said we were only a few years from becoming ‘The Pearl of the Far East’ again. But now, whenever it rains, Saigon becomes the ‘Mud of the Far East.’”
Journalist Hoang Linh said Thang’s policies had arrested growth in the commercial capital, rather than boosted it.
“Don’t turn Saigon into anything it isn’t—just let it be bustling and crowded Saigon,” he said.
“The people there know what to do to make a prosperous city. All models imposed only make it worse!”
Last week, after the party’s Inspection Committee recommended disciplinary action against Thang, observers told RFA that he is widely seen as a pawn in a struggle between General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong and former Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to cement their political standing.
Others pointed out that Thang was repeatedly promoted, despite his involvement in serious wrongdoings while at PetroVietnam, suggesting that the Inspection Committee’s recommendation came as a result of political infighting.
Four other PetroVietnam officials have already been punished or warned as part of an investigation into business violations between 2009 and 2015, including Nguyen Xuan Son—the group’s former Communist Party chief—who was expelled from the party and arrested in July 2015.
Reported by RFA’s Vietnamese Service. Translated by Emily Peyman. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.