HCMC residents in heated debate with officials over urban area project

By Trung Son, Pham Duy   May 10, 2018 | 03:59 am PT
HCMC residents in heated debate with officials over urban area project
A woman cries during a meeting with Ho Chi Minh City legislators on the relocation and compensation for Thu Thiem urban area project in District 2 on Wednesday. Photo by VnExpress/Pham Duy
'The greed for cash and profit has changed Thu Thiem.'

Citizens from Ho Chi Minh City’s District 2 attended a heated meeting with city legislators on Wednesday, demanding answers for the Thu Thiem urban development plan that has been plaguing their lives for more than a decade.

The people finally had a chance to voice their frustrations following a claim by the city that the original planning map for the area had gone missing, an admission that has earned the project national headlines and public attention.

The meeting lasted more than seven hours until 9 p.m. Several people showed up early carrying banners, documents and maps to support their arguments, and many skipped dinner.

Le Thi Bach Tuyet, a local woman, said each square meter of her house had been valued at VND350 million ($15,625) by a real estate agency, but the city had only paid her VND18 million ($803).

"This is bullying," she said. Tuyet said most of the people displaced by the project are poor, and the city could have paid them at least three times more.

Le Thi Hong Van said that her house was not supposed to be reclaimed to make way for the new urban area, but authorities took it anyway. She has been protesting the decision for the last 16 years, and now even if she and her family wanted to move back in, they would not be able to because the house is dilapidated and unlivable.

Le Thi Ngoc Nga said her house was taken in 2008 although she had never received an official reclamation order.

“The city and District 2 authorities must show us the Thu Thiem planning map to make things clear,” she said.

Doan Van Phuong said he wanted the National Assembly and the Politburo, the country's top legislators and decision-making officials, to take matters into their own hands and launch an investigation, citing corruption possibly plaguing the Thu Thiem construction project.

“In all honesty, we no longer trust any officials who work for District 2,” he said.

“It’s been 22 years since the Thu Thiem project first started, but it is nowhere near completion," said Tran Thi My, 77.

"There is no theater, no park, no hospital, no school… as the investors initially touted to us. The greed for cash and profit has changed Thu Thiem,” she said. Currently, the area is filled with high-rise apartments and condos.

Nguyen Tien Thinh suspected foul play on the project, saying the VND12 trillion ($536 million) spent to construct the four roads connecting the new urban area to surrounding districts was way too high, considering they were only 12 kilometers long in total.

“I want the city’s authorities to clarify the cost of these four roads. The cash has been taken from our tax money, so the people deserve to know,” he said.

In response to the citizens’ concerns, representatives have sworn to thoroughly investigate and resolve all existing problems.

Nguyen Phuoc Hung, chairman of District 2's People’s Committee, said the legal grounds to determine whether a house needs to be reclaimed did not fall under the district’s jurisdiction, and only HCMC's People’s Committee could answer that.

Nguyen Thi Quyet Tam, the city's chief lawmaker, promised to supervise a "careful" investigation.

“As long as I’m sitting in this chair as the council head, I swear to pursue this matter to the end,” she said.

The Thu Thiem Urban Area in District 2 spans 657 hectares (1,623 acres) across the Saigon River from the city's central District 1. It is set to become one of the biggest international financial and commercial centers in Southeast Asia.

To develop the megaproject, the city spent 10 years relocating 15,000 households, and paid out nearly VND30 trillion ($1.32 billion) in compensation.

However, several families said their houses were not supposed to be included in the demolition list according to a planning map drawn up in 1996, which was reportedly approved by the PM at the time.

The map was recently reported to be missing, and controversy has been circulating ever since. Some officials say the map never existed, but an architect claims to have a copy of the 1996 map.

The map’s whereabouts is still under investigation.

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