More red tape could make you see less of Captain Sidewalk on Saigon streets

By Duy Tran   October 14, 2017 | 07:00 pm GMT+7
More red tape could make you see less of Captain Sidewalk on Saigon streets
Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of Saigon's District 1, inspects a dance club fence encroaching on the sidewalk. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran

District 1 has set up a new task force whose action is contingent on complaints, essentially undercutting Captain Sidewalk's authority.

Saigon’s Captain Sidewalk may not be able to patrol the city on a more frequent basis as his boss has set up a new inspection team which is only allowed to hit the streets upon complaints.

Tran The Thuan, chairman of the city’s capital District 1, has established an inspection team comprising of traffic and public order officers who will not act until grassroots officials, local people or the media report a problem.

The team is required to set out a specific action plan before Thuan signs off on it, according to the new rule.

That is completely a new process compared to what the district’s vice chairman Doan Ngoc Hai has been doing. Hai has been leading a team of police and security agents on downtown streets almost every day and night and punish any sidewalk encroachment violations the team spotted.

It is not clear who will lead the new team.

But not many people are happy with the plan, as they believe that with longer approval procedure, things will go back to the bad old days.

“This decision will more or less obstruct the mission of restoring District 1’s urban order," a district official  said on the condition of anonymity.

The official said Hai could only expose sidewalk violations by launching surprise inspections. But “with the new decision, his hands are tied.”

Hai has been serving as the de facto frontman for District 1's sidewalk campaign that started in early February to take back the sidewalks for their original purpose. He has pledged to turn the district into a “Little Singapore.”

His team has put up barriers and deployed police to stop motorbikes from driving on the sidewalks. They have also been towing vehicles, including government and foreign diplomatic cars, and destroying any invasive constructions that spill out onto the street, some of which belong to five-star hotels.

Street vendors across the district are possibly the unhappiest, and many have been seen crying and yelling when police seize their food stands.

The campaign hit a four-month hiatus before resuming in August, when Hai asked for “carte blanche to punish anyone that breaks the rules, even officials.”

Two weeks ago, District 1 authorities issued an official apology after Hai apparently irked locals and officials  from the poor rural U Minh District more than 250 miles away for impulsive remarks that many equated with urban snobbery.

“Drivers entering District 1 must follow the rules. If you are going to drive with no manners, go and live in the jungle in U Minh,” he said at that time. U Minh has a large area of mangrove forest.

Hai later said he did not mean to offend anyone there and many public members also supported him, adding it would be too politically correct to conflate his comments with discrimination.

But many also agreed that his communication skills leaves much room for improvement.