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Sunday, 3 June 2007

The Firing Squad. Saigon. Vietnam

Corruption was endemic in Vietnam. It probably always was and still is. Nobody working for the government had enough money to provide for a family. The social security system as it is known in Europe today did not exist. There was help through various aid agencies, but administrative lethargy, bottlenecks or various other problems stopped it always getting through. Mrs Contento asked me one day if I would like some tins of fish for my cat. These were part of an aid shipment that had got stuck in a government warehouse and the tins had started to expand and the whole lot became unfit for human consumption. I was very fond of my cat and had no intention of feeding it anything that might have gone off. Vital medicines needed for lepers were held up as well.

I remember going with KC one day to get some paper work done. She handed over ten thousand piastres in an envelope. When we went back a week later to get the papers a very embarrassed official handed the money back. Evidently he was afraid to ask for a bribe from her as one of her uncle's was his superior.

The government, believed to be completely corrupt itself, clamped down from time to time. Of course the object was never to be so foolish as to be caught or bribe the wrong officials or to find oneself a skapegoat. This happened to one luckless Chinese businessman. KC's father had known him in the past, but being one of those very honest and upright men the family's fortunes had suffered from the war. The grandmother had made a lot of money by buying up every rice paddy she could lay hands on. Completely honest, even if the poor though were as always the losers. The family would then adopt deserving poor boys and educate them. The war of course played havoc with landowners.

Anyway this Chinese businessman had been involved in some dubious transaction, but then that was a common business practise. Perhaps he had gone further than he should, perhaps he had links to the Viet Cong. I forget the details and in any case they are unimportant. The powers that be wanted to set a good example. He was sentensed to death by firing squad. There was some doubt whether it was actually he who was executed as the condemned man converted to catholicism at the last minute. But then there were always rumours in Saigon. His head was covered by a hood in any case as he was taken to the post in the open place near the market in downtown Saigon early one morning for the public execution. Tied to the post, sandbags making a wall behind him he was shot to death by firing squad.

I did not go to see it as I thought that it would be in rather poor taste. He was the only man shot for corruption in South Vietnam during that period that I know of.

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