Corruption is widely identified as a critical problem for developing economies and is also viewed as a priority issue by international organisations and donors. Governments such as Vietnam place anti-corruption high on their policy agenda. However, external observers regularly criticise them for not meeting their targets. The problem with the critique is that it mostly places the blame on implementation failures when the issue is as much a design failure. Templates for anti-corruption success in fact misread the practical lessons. One element of the standard template, the need for an ‘independent’ anti-corruption enforcement system, misreads the meaning and empirical reality of ‘independence’. Evidence is presented from Singapore, Hong Kong and Indonesia to show that their anti-corruption agencies are ‘independent’ more in the sense that they are powerful, rather than in the sense that they are apolitical. The lesson for Vietnam is that misleading design principles such as ‘political independence’ are a distraction from the task of strengthening the anti-corruption law enforcement system.