Captain Sidewalk hits Saigon streets again

By Duy Tran   June 4, 2018 | 11:35 pm PT
Captain Sidewalk hits Saigon streets again
Saigon Captain Sidewalk Doan Ngoc Hai returns to the street on Monday after eight months of stepping down the massive sidewalk cleanup campaign. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran
Three weeks after withdrawing his resignation, Doan Ngoc Hai participates in a sidewalk patrol.

Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of the District 1 People’s Committee in Ho Chi Minh City, is back on the street, continuing a campaign that has almost cost him his job last year.

Hai had soared into public view with a massive take-no-prisoners sidewalk cleanup campaign that earned him both praise and criticism – praise for being proactive and tough, criticism for ignoring the plight of common people trying to eke out a living.

The resultant brouhaha prompted him to put in his papers, and the sidewalk cleanup campaign he pioneered lost steam for nearly eight months.

Three weeks ago, he withdrew his resignation, and on Monday, for the first time since last October, he put in a surprise appearance.

During the patrol, Hai spotted three goat soup stalls that had placed tables and chairs on the sidewalks at the intersection of Nguyen Cong Tru and Pho Duc Chinh in District 1. He immediately instructed the ward’s leader and inspection team to slap a heavy fine on the stalls for repeated sidewalk encroachment and public littering.

Hai also asked ward authorities to tighten sidewalk control in the area, following a May 31 incident where some “security agents” (temporarily drafted to assist the police) were reportedly assaulted and hospitalized by a shellfish stall owner.

Hai asked the police to investigate and impose stricter punishments on the stall owner and her children for the assault against agents on duty.

However, Hai also admitted that the failure of the ward's leaders and their staff to deal with cases in a fair and transparent way had generated public anger and opposition.

He said a budget shortfall and low salaries given to security agents led to “negative issues” while dealing with sidewalk encroachments and stopped them from doing more.

Hai’s earlier crackdown, following a boast that he would clean up sidewalks and turn District 1 into a “Little Singapore” had gained him instant fame.

During that crackdown, his team put up barriers to stop motorbikes from driving on the sidewalks. Many vehicles, including government and foreign diplomatic cars, were towed, constructions that spilled out onto the street, some of which belonged to five-star hotels, were dismantled.

Hai received death threats during his campaign, but also gained widespread public support, except from street vendors who were seen crying and yelling after police seized their food stands.

Responding to the controversy, district leaders asked him to step down as the de facto frontman of the campaign last October and replaced his daily patrols with a task force which would only deal with sidewalk encroachments based on tip-offs.

Soon after, the district's sidewalks were retaken by cars and shops, prompting Hai to submit a letter of resignation last January, saying he had failed to keep his promise to the public.

In the resignation letter, Hai said that his campaign had collided with businesses that had million-dollar interests on the sidewalks, and a large number of officials backing them. The mission needed the support of the entire political system, which he had not received, he said.

In the latest development, Hai withdrew his resignation saying he still felt the need to continue contributing to the city. He said he is willing to undertake any mission now.

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