The man behind Saigon's sidewalk cleanup campaign returns to the streets

By Duy Tran   August 8, 2017 | 12:34 pm GMT+7

'The wards didn't take the task seriously and allowed the sidewalks to be retaken, so I have returned to deal with it.'

After a four-month hiatus, Saigon's District 1 finally saw the long-awaited return of the sidewalk cleanup campaign on Monday evening as the man behind it returned to the streets.

Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of District 1 and the instigator of the original campaign, personally led an inspection team to once again restore order to the district's chaotic sidewalks.

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Doan Ngoc Hai (left) is leading the sidewalk cleanup team again. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran

“The wards didn't take the task seriously and allowed the sidewalks to be retaken, so I have returned to deal with it,” Hai said.

The inspection team quickly discovered and ticketed cars parked on the sidewalks along Le Duan, Nguyen Thi Minh Khai and Hai Ba Trung, and one empty car was towed away.

The unexpected appearance of the team threw a restaurant on Hoang Sa Street into chaos as its employees tried to carry all the tables and chairs inside, leaving diners in confusion.

Hai remained resolute and instructed his team to confiscate the tables and chairs, despite the irritated restaurant owner claiming they were only taking up a small part of the sidewalk.

Another restaurant at the Ly Tu Trong-Nguyen Trung Truc crossroads suffered the same fate, in addition to being fined for littering.

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The team confiscates chairs and tables from a restaurant on Hoang Sa Street. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran

Hai started District 1's widely-applauded sidewalk cleanup campaign back in February in a bid to take back the sidewalks for their original purpose.

However, he took a step back from the campaign in April and handed over the mission to local authorities, and that's when things quickly returned to business as usual.

Restaurants and vendors returned to the sidewalks, laying out tables and chairs like nothing had ever happened. Cars and motorbikes were parked freely on the sidewalks, including some carrying blue government license plates.

Hai was finally reassigned to lead the sidewalk cleanup team in June. But he only returned to the streets on Monday, three days after he asked the city for the carte blanche to punish anyone that breaks the rules, even officials.

In the first half of the year, District 1 recorded nearly 7,000 violations and issued fines of more than VND3.2 billion ($141,000). It also spent VND517 million on moving and storing confiscated items, towing vehicles and demolishing stuctures that encroached on the sidewalks.