Two capable long serving Deputy Prime Ministers resign over pandemic-related scandals
On January 5, at an extraordinary meeting of the 15th National Assembly (NA) of Vietnam, lawmakers approved the resignation of Deputy Prime Ministers (DPMs) Pham Binh Minh and Vu Duc Dam, both of whom have served for 10 years as deputies to three Prime Ministers. The NA also approved appointment of two new DPMs: Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Tran Hong Ha and Secretary of the Party Committee of Hai Phong City Tran Luu Quang.
Days earlier on December 30, 2022, the Central Executive Committee (CEC) of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) called an extraordinary session chaired by General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong to discuss the political fate of Minh and Dam, each of which had seen dozens of officials under their supervision, including their own long-time aides, arrested in two separate corruption scandals related to the COVID-19 pandemic. While no formal charges were brought against Minh and Dam, the two men tabled their resignations from key CPV duties to the CEC which moved quickly to approve. The CEC also approved Tran Hong Ha and Tran Luu Quang as candidates for DPMs to be appointed by the NA.
Both former DPMs Minh and Dam have long experience in Government. Former DPM Minh is a long-serving diplomat who served as Vietnam Minister of Foreign Affairs from 2011 to 2021 and as Vietnam DPM from 2013 to 2023. Since September 2021, he also served as Standing Deputy Prime Minister, the most senior among the deputy prime ministers in the Cabinet. He is the son of a former Politburo member and a member of the Politburo himself since 2016. Meanwhile, former DPM Dam has long been considered one of Vietnam’s leading technocrats, overseeing the healthcare, education, culture, and technology portfolio. He was assigned as Vietnam’s DPM since 2013. He was a former assistant to acclaimed Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet and later Chairman of the Office of Government. From 2020 to August 2021, he was the head of the National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control and achieved public acclaim for his leadership of Vietnam’s successful ‘zero COVID’ initiatives.
While specific responsibilities of the two new DPMs have not been worked out yet, it is expected that DPM Ha will pick up former DPM Dam’s portfolio, which covers healthcare, science and technology, digital economy, education, culture and sports.
DPM Quang is not a replacement for former DPM Minh who not only was a Politburo member but also First DPM, covering foreign policy, FDI, foreign trade and a host of other important areas. Rather, DPM Quang is most likely to fill in for DPM Le Van Thanh who reportedly has been on extended leave since mid-November. The government webpage for DPM Thanh shows the last official government business activity he conducted was on November 12, 2022, which was almost two months ago. No official reasons have been given for his absence but under Vietnam’s rules, information about senior leaders’ health is classified. Like the new DPM Quang, DPM Thanh is also former Secretary of the Party Committee of Hai Phong, who was appointed to the government of Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh in April 2021. He covers energy, infrastructure, agriculture, among other things.
For now, there is no sign that a replacement for DPM Minh will be contemplated and his portfolio will be picked up by the Prime Minister himself.
This leaves the current government to include PM Pham Minh Chinh and DPMs Le Minh Khai, Tran Hong Ha and Tran Luu Quang.
Deputy Prime Minister Tran Hong Ha
DPM Tran Hong Ha, born in 1963, is a native of Vietnam north-central province of Ha Tinh. He has been the Minister of Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) for the second tenure since 2016. He previously served as Deputy Minister of MONRE since 2008 and briefly as Deputy Secretary of Ba Ria-Vung Tau Provincial People’s Committee from 2009-2010. He began his career in the Environment Department of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Environment (later renamed to MONRE) in 1996 and remained with the Ministry since then. He is also a member of the 8th Party Central Committee, Secretary of the Party Personnel Committee and member of the 15th National Assembly for the 2021–2026 tenure.
DPM Tran Hong Ha, in his role as Minister of MONRE, has been working closely with U.S. Government and U.S. industry to promote collaborations in environment and energy transition. In his meeting with Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry on the sidelines of the COP27 on November 7, 2022, he called for resources and technological assistance to help Vietnam achieve net-zero carbon emissions target by 2025. Under his leadership, MONRE entered into an MOU with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on Climate Change and Environmental Pollution in January 2022. The first milestone of this MOU was the launch of USAID’s Reducing Pollution project in November 2022, a five-year US$11.3 million effort implemented by USAID partner Winrock International to address multiple sources of environmental pollution and bring together different stakeholders to collaborate and identify ways to solve problems and take actions.
Speaking at the celebration of US Independence Day in Hanoi in 2022, DPM Ha emphasized that the comprehensive partnership between Vietnam and the U.S. has developed fruitfully and substantively in recent years and called on U.S. companies to actively invest in the green transition in Vietnam.
Deputy Prime Minister Tran Luu Quang
DPM Tran Luu Quang, born in 1967, is a native of southern Tay Ninh Province. Prior to the appointment, he was the Secretary of Hai Phong city’s Party Committee, Head of the Hai Phong National Assembly’s delegation and member of the 15th National Assembly since May 2021. Previously, DPM Quang was the Deputy Secretary of the Hochiminh City’s Party Committee from 2019 to 2021 and was elected as a member of the Party Central Committee since 2021. He previously held several positions at Tay Ninh province between 2010 – 2019 such as standing Vice-chairman of the People’s Committee, Secretary of the Party Committee, and Chairman of the People’s Council of Tay Ninh. He started his career as a specialist of the Department of Planning and Investment of Tay Ninh province in 1994.
He is the second person in the position of Secretary of Hai Phong city’s Party Committee to have been appointed as Deputy Prime Minister, following Le Van Thanh, one of the four current DPMs.
During his prior role as the Head of Hai Phong’s Party Committee and Hai Phong’s National Assembly delegation, DPM Quang was actively calling for U.S. investments to Hai Phong. In his meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam Marc E. Knapper in April 2022, he promoted Hai Phong’s attractive policies, potential advantages and outstanding socio-economic conditions, and emphasized that the city was committed to supporting and creating the most favorable conditions for U.S. businesses to explore investment opportunities.