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Values-based Approach Needed For Police Integrity

Da Nang (Viet Nam), 26 August 2014 - The Police integrity workshop, an important forum to discuss the ways to address corruption within law enforcement in Viet Nam, has underlined the need for a values-based system and culture to allow integrity to become the true currency of any police officer.

The UNODC and the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) joint event, comes amid a backdrop of growing public awareness of how corruption and abuse of power in general is pervasive within Vietnamese society and in the Police and increased Government resolve to address it.

Issues of Police accountability, transparency and internal oversight were in the focus of the discussion among MPS Senior management, representatives of the National Assembly, Government Inspectorate, Supreme People's Procuracy, Supreme People's Court and the Ministry of Planning and Investment of Viet Nam.

Together, they engaged in open dialogue on the concept of police integrity with a number of international law enforcement experts, such as Ms. Evelyn Lam, Chief Superintendent of Police, Complaints and Internal Investigation Branch, Hong Kong Police Force, representatives from the Australian, the Netherlands and UK police forces as well as UNODC experts from headquarters in Vienna and from Bangkok.

While Ms. Anna Giudice Saget, a crime prevention officer from UNODC headquarters in Vienna, described the elements of a comprehensive police accountability system under international standards, Ms Lam,who played an important role in reducing Hong Kong's once high crime rate to one of world's lowest today, shared experience of Hong Kong in putting into practice a Police integrity concept.

The "Living-the-Values" approach sees officers align personal values with police values to allow integrity and honesty to transcend the personal and professional lives of officers.

However this move to a values-based culture, which has seen Hong Kong climb to 4th in the world for "reliability of police service" in the Global Competitiveness Report 2013-14, did not happen overnight.

"This process has taken us almost 20 years and it must be a top-down approach," she said.

Buy-in from senior management was necessary to "weed out the bad elements" and creating a culture where wrongdoing is not condoned by fellow officers.

This move to a values-based culture, as reflected in a corporate Code of Conduct, is complemented by rigorous oversight and integrity management, with checks and balances to keep officers accountable. A comprehensive police complaints process, seen as one of the world's most progressive, quickly addresses any cases of police misconduct. In fact, officers today now wear cameras to ward against any abuse of powers. This combined with development of better working conditions for the police officers has greatly contributed to the success in Police reform.

Commander Chris McDevitt, Australian Federal Police (AFP) Senior Liaison Officer to Viet Nam, further underlined the importance of values.

"Culture is one of the biggest issues in any police force and perception is so important. You have lots of power and you need to respect it, any officer must be accountable for their actions. In the AFP, integrity is our currency," Mr. McDevitt told the workshop in Da Nang.

The AFP, which overhauled its values culture as did Hong Kong, also has rigorous oversight regulations and punishments considered to be some of the world's toughest with random drug and alcohol testing and the need to account for assets and the contents of bank accounts on request.

"In this sense, the behavior you walk past or accept is the behavior you are accepting for your organization," he said.

This building of a values culture in Viet Nam's police force is already underway, with UNODC facilitating a study tour to Hong Kong for anti-corruption branches of the MPS, Supreme People's Procuracy and Supreme People's Court. UNODC is further working to assist in the development of a professional code of conduct for MPS anti-corruption branches and is part of a broader area of UNODC support to the Government of Viet Nam to strengthen accountability of public officials, including in law enforcement and Justice institutions, in line with the requirements of the UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC).

A strong and transparent law enforcement and criminal justice system is a backbone of efficient anti-corruption efforts and this need was highlighted during the 2012 review of Viet Nam's implementation of UNCAC.

This need was further underlined by Party General Secretary H.E. Nguyen Phu Trong, who said at a national conference on anti-corruption on 5 May 2014 that the fight against corruption can only be effective if the agencies in charge of anti-corruption are ethical and clean. Corruption within law enforcement can take many forms, from accepting bribes for traffic-related offenses to the laying or dropping of charges for serious crimes. While the MPS has procedures in place for investigating public complaints of law enforcement misconduct, workshop participants said investigators could be influenced especially in relation to economic crimes and cases involving influential people.

The Supreme People's Court in Viet Nam reported that from 2006 to the end of June, 2013 judicial bodies had investigated and adjudicated 312 cases/374 defendants of corruption in judicial activities, equal to 7.56% of the total corruption cases.

Addressing these challenges to develop an efficient and transparent law enforcement and criminal justice system is a backbone of efficient anti-corruption efforts and this need was highlighted during the 2012 review of Viet Nam's implementation of UNCAC.

"The effective, professional and accountable law enforcement and Justice system is a fundamental component of the rule of law and good governance and of effective protection of human rights," said Ms. Z. Akisheva, UNODC Country Manager in Viet Nam.

She singled out the current revisions of the Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code as a legal basis for countering corruption, and the country's acceptance of the majority of recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review process that included "the need to strengthen law enforcement and justice institutions to better protect human rights".

While the national self-assessment process led by the Government Inspectorate has produced several key recommendations for law enforcement to combat corruption, more work is needed to better position the MPS to police anti-corruption efforts and overhaul the police's values system.

Senior Lieutenant General Hieu told workshop participants the MPS was committed to realizing a law enforcement force that prides itself on integrity and agreed a number of international initiatives could gain traction in Viet Nam.

"We are fully aware that the important measures in reaching this goal are highlighting discipline while enhancing integrity and transparency in every action and fulfilling the task of supervising," he said.

In particular, he said, local police officers could benefit from better education opportunities and working conditions, with a strengthened legal framework, enhanced public complaints process and oversight of police for better transparency.

"I personally believe this is a vitally important workshop which gives us an opportunity to share our criteria, standards and international experience in enhancing integrity, accountability and transparency. This is an important component in limiting mistakes, negativity and corruption in activities of law enforcement agencies," said Senior Lieutenant General Hieu.

In his closing speech, MPS Standing Vice Minister Dang Van Hieu summarized the following priorities to promote police integrity in Viet Nam:

This workshop is an important step for the UNODC and MPS to continue working together in support of Government's efforts in addressing corruption and abuse of power among public officials, including in law enforcement and criminal justice institutions.