Government officials supposedly safeguarding the system are in fact a large part of the problem, said the group gathered ahead of a wider anti-corruption dialogue due to start Thursday between Swedish, Danish and Vietnamese officials.

Greater transparency and accountability is needed to address bribery and corruption, Swedish Ambassador Staffan Herrstrom said.

Land management "is definitely the right topic for this anti-corruption dialogue," said panelist James Anderson, a World Bank governance specialist.

"Corruption in land management in all societies makes the rich become richer and the poor become poorer at the same time as the governments lose tax revenue," Herrstrom said.

This adds to public debt and shortchanges schools, health care and other public programmes, panelists said.

Studies in five provinces found that 85 per cent of households perceived corruption in land management. Thirty-five per cent of businesses said that "gifts and informal payments" were standard aspects of doing business in Vietnam, the study found.

One Vietnamese journalist questioned whether the ability of the initiative to address corruption. "Corruption in Vietnam is very big, but invisible," said Dai Phuong of the newspaper Tien Phong. Self-interest, not public interest, motivates many government officials, he said.

Herrstrom emphasized that the Vietnamese government's participation "is a step towards transparency itself." Panelists also noted that some provinces had put in place promising programmes.

He added that "a vibrant media and protection of whistleblowers," were critical to the fight against corruption, which often goes unaddressed in Vietnam.

The anti-corruption dialogue had been held twice a year since it was started in 2006 by embassies of Sweden and Denmark together with the Vietnamese Office for the Central Steering Committee on Anti-Corruption.

Deutsche Presse Agentur - November 24, 2010