How was Vietnam’s Ministry of Health and Ministry of Science and Technology involved in Viet A company’s COVID-19 test kit scandal?

Viet A company’s COVID-19 test kit

After Vietnamese authorities arrested the general director of Viet A company on charges of “inflating prices” and “making a profit” from the sale of COVID-19 test kits, there is more information about the involvement of the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Technology in this scandal, according to reports in the domestic press.

On December 18-19, Vietnamese newspapers reported that the police probed and arrested Mr. Phan Quoc Viet, 41 years old, Chairman, of the Board of Directors and General Director of Viet A Technology Joint Stock Company because violating the law in the production and trading of COVID-19 test kits.

The police, quoted by the media, said they also probed six other people and took statements from 30 people involved.

According to the news, the initial investigation results found that Mr. Viet ” took advantage of” the pandemic situation to enjoy the “short-term without-bidding contracts” regulation and was allowed to provide medical supplies and equipment to hospitals and epidemic control agencies (CDCs) in many provinces and cities.

Mr. Viet’s company colluded with leaders of the above agencies to buy and sell Covid-19 test kits at prices “much higher” than production costs, Vietnamese newspapers reported, citing information from the police.

The selling price of a test kit was raised to VND470,000 ($2.1) each and Viet A Company gave back “percentage of contract or “commission” for leaders of hospitals and CDCs of provinces and cities, according to initial investigation results, republished by newspapers.

With the CDC of Hai Duong province alone, Viet A has contracts with a total value of VND151 billion and Mr. Phan Quoc Viet has paid a commission of nearly VND30 billion for the director of this CDC, equivalent to 20% of the contract value.

According to the police, Viet A’s revenue from selling test kits is up to VND4 trillion nationwide. Some observers have calculated that if the officials involved are entitled to at least 20% of the contract value similar to the leader of the CDC Hai Duong, the amount of money that officials personally pocket is up to VND800 billion ($35.9 million).

The Viet A scandal has attracted special attention from the Vietnamese public, who have been discontented for the past year about the health sector’s repeated requests for COVID-19 testing on a large scale, even applying the use of coercive testing methods has resulted in a number of cases being condemned as “barbaric,” “inhumane,” “violating physical freedom” or “invading the privacy” of citizens.

In the many discussions going on social networks about the scandal that has just been revealed, many people are now asking whether the authorities at all levels have been eager to promote, even push for a long time testing on a large scale because of the benefits shared by the test kit businesses.

Doctor Vo Xuan Son in Ho Chi Minh City, a social media blogger with 94,000 followers, shared his thoughts with VOA:

I disagree with forcing people to be tested. Since then I have had spoken very much. The issue of taking advantage of these test kits and then related to pushing to do tests, have to do tests, have to do tests, I think is related.”

While the police investigation is still ongoing, Vietnamese media and public opinion are naming two ministries considered to be heavily involved in the scandal, namely the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Science and Technology.

Local newspapers said on December 20 that it was the Ministry of Health, which is the state management agency, that “introduced” the inflated price of VND470,000/kit to the provinces for them to buy from Viet A.

More specifically, the newspapers said that the Director of the Department of Medical Equipment and Construction of the ministry, Mr. Nguyen Minh Tuan, signed a document on July 2, 2021, sent to the health departments, hospitals, and institutes directly under the Ministry of Health on the above issue.

But the price of VND470,000/kit is just the “lowest” price sold by Viet A Co., and in fact, some places bought it for even up to nearly VND510,000/kit.

Going back in time, the Vietnamese press and public opinion found information that showed that the two ministries of Health and Science and Technology seemed to have easily licensed and promoted Viet A’s test kit in less than 3 weeks from late February and early March 2020.

Next, the Ministry of Science and Technology, the Communist Party’s Electronic Newspaper, the Government Newspaper, and a number of other state-controlled newspapers at the end of April 2020 announced that the Viet A test kit was approved by the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, at present, Tuoi Tre and some newspapers give evidence that WHO has never approved the test kit of Viet A. On December 20, the Ministry of Science and Technology acknowledged that there was an error and removed the news about WHO approval.

Doctor Vo Xuan Son commented on this incident to VOA:

That is a lie. I determined that Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology posted a lie about Viet A’s kit being recognized by WHO but in fact it was not. That is a lie. As for why there is such a lie and how it affects it, time will tell.”

According to VOA’s observations, many people expressed dissatisfaction with the inconsistent information of the Ministry of Science and Technology and questioned how the state will handle when the ministry publishes serious false information, which has a great impact on health. citizens’ health and money. They also raised the contrasting image that there are ordinary people who post false information online who have been fined or jailed by the authorities.

But the biggest discontent from the Vietnamese public is that they think that Viet A is just the tip of the iceberg, there must be someone behind it to steal tens of millions of Vietnamese people.

Many people voiced on social networks, asking Vietnam’s top leaders to “do their best” about this scandal and bring to light those who are considered “blood-suckers” in this case.

Doctor Vo Xuan Son expressed doubts about the moves of the state. He said:

What they [the state] actually do, we’ve seen a lot of things. So, I just hope people see all the problems related to people’s life and health to have a more correct attitude in whether to accept or request requests that many people used to have in the past. Just accept it with your eyes closed.”

Except the Ministry of Science and Technology has just admitted its fault in posting false news. The Ministry of Health has not officially commented on its role in the ongoing scandal. (Translated)


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