Failed textile company spins classic tale of party graft and private greed

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 25 March, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 March, 1998, 12:00am

Nam Dinh is a classic northern Vietnamese company town, just 100 kilometres from Hanoi.

A huge lumbering state enterprise, the Nam Dinh Textile Company looms from the rice paddies of the Red River delta, the biggest employer for miles around.

Its managers included well-connected Communist Party members who dreamed of expansion and latched on to new-found freedoms and reforms to realise their ambitions, only to plunge the firm into huge debt.

Before the rot set in last year, it employed 18,500 people. Now it struggles on with a staff of less than 9,000.

The newly unemployed have lost their livelihoods at a time when the regional crisis is starting to bite.

All in all, the collapse of the Nam Dinh marks a cautionary tale indeed.

Reform is vital for the town yet the harsh reality suggests it must often be carried out by grabbing mid-ranking cadres more interested in flash new homes and structures than any concept of due diligence.

And for the party, the pressures are all too evident, especially as they bubble up in a province viewed as the revolution's 'heartland'.

This week, thousands of angry local people have gathered outside a heavily guarded courtroom in the centre of town where the directors of the textile firm are on trial.

Some 14 defendants, including officials from the industry and finance ministries, must explain away stolen funds, missing state revenue and bad debts totalling nearly 310 billion dong (HK$185 million).

All this in a town where many workers earn less than HK$4 a day.

Prosecutors want life sentences for Nguyen Duy Kiem, director of the company, his successor Nguyen Van Tuyen and chief accountant Tran Ngoc Vinh.

Security worries almost moved the trial to Hanoi but it seems there are other interests at work. When it comes to justice in Vietnam, angry peasants must increasingly be satisfied.

The mood is also being whipped up by Interior Ministry loudspeakers set up outside the court. No one is expecting any surprise acquittals.