According to the latest index published by Transparency International, Vietnam is more corrupt than 106 other countries – at first sight hardly a cause for celebration.
And yet, the annual survey has picked up a slow but steady improvement by Vietnam in the global rankings.
The index can measure only “perceptions” of corruption, given the murky nature of such activity and the lack of any credible hard data.
But the trend is unmistakable, Vietnam is now perceived as a slightly less corrupt country than it was three years ago.
Each country is given a score out of a 100, with 100 being the least corrupt and 0 the most. The global average score is 43, so Vietnam with a rating of 35 this year has little to boast about.
And yet the year before it scored only 33, and before that 31.
Lack of transparency
The Communist party leadership, under Nguyen Phu Trong, has identified corruption as the greatest threat to the nation and the legitimacy of the party.
His fierce anti-corruption campaign has been criticised for its utter lack of transparency and apparently arbitrary nature, and yet the annual index suggests it could nevertheless be having some effect.
Corruption has lone been endemic at all levels of Vietnamese society, from the health sector and education to construction, land management and industry.
Vietnamese are particularly enraged by the sight of local Communist party officials enriching themselves with controversial development deals that see farmers turned off their land.
The party leadership has made no secret of the scale of the problem and the need for action.
The problem in a society with no free press and tough penal sanctions for those that question the government is that people can have no confidence in the rectitude of those carrying out the purge.
Nguyen Phu Trong says he wants to clean up society and reestablish what he sees as the moral standing of the Communist party – his ambition would be more convincing if people had confidence that the gamekeepers were not themselves partial to a little poaching.