- The Washington Times - Friday, July 13, 2007

HANOI

Most Vietnamese cower when a cop squeezes them for a bribe. Le Hien Duc, a gray-haired 75-year-old grand- mother, fights back.

Standing 4-foot-9 and weighing 88 pounds, she will take on anyone, from lowly bureaucrats to high-level officials. She e-mails, phones, tracks them down at their offices and confronts them at their homes.

“Corruption is definitely an evil, and it is ruining my beloved country,” said Mrs. Duc, a former elementary school teacher who works from dawn until dusk battling graft.

Corruption is perhaps the most vulnerable spot in the country’s single-party Communist state — from the traffic cops who pull over drivers for $3 bribes to the Transportation Ministry officials accused last year of gambling $13 million in public money on British soccer matches.

Corruption persists here in part because officials earning $50 official salaries consider it perfectly acceptable to charge kickbacks for virtually any kind of service, large or small.

As a result, the country routinely fares poorly in international corruption rankings. But in Vietnam, where people respect authority, few dare challenge the system.

Many turn to Mrs. Duc.

“Most of us tremble when we have to deal with police,” said Doan Van Hung, a deliveryman who recently sought Mrs. Duc’s help. “She is incredibly brave.”

Mr. Hung’s ordeal was typical: A policeman stopped him for speeding and threatened to seize his motorbike unless he paid a $3 bribe — more than a day’s average wage.

Corruption among “road bullies,” as the Vietnamese traffic police are known, is rampant, but most drivers simply pay up and leave.

Mrs. Duc tracked down the officer who harassed Mr. Hung and filed a complaint with the Hanoi chief of police. The officer was promptly demoted.

The grandmother of eight intervened in another recent case involving school officials who apparently had been pocketing school lunch money for years by making cafeteria staff cut back on the children’s portions.

Local government investigators confirmed the scam. But when the evidence was brought before Hanoi education officials, they did nothing.

Frustrated parents had read about Mrs. Duc in the newspapers and turned to her for help. She took the case straight to the top.

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