Are you Team Captain Sidewalk or Team New Task Force in Saigon's sidewalk battle?

By Editorial   November 16, 2017 | 11:24 pm PT
Captain Sidewalk has garnered widespread support for his no nonsense cleanup campaign, but a city leader has called it 'inhumane'.

In February this year, Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of Ho Chi Minh City's District 1, did something unprecedented: he personally took to the streets to take back the sidewalks for their original purpose, pledging to turn the district into a "Little Singapore".

But city chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong, who praised the cleanup in its early days, said on Wednesday it needs better execution.

"Some people sell their goods on the sidewalk to feed their families. An unsubtle approach can really affect their lives, especially poor people. It’s inhumane to push them away," Phong said.

As part of the campaign, Hai's 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.

The campaign hit a four-month hiatus before resuming in August, when the de facto frontman Hai asked for "carte blanche to punish anyone that breaks the rules, even officials". One of his recent "victims" was his mother-in-law as Hai ordered environment officials to inspect her restaurant for dumping waste illegally.

As a result, sidewalks in downtown Saigon have indeed become more pedestrian friendly while two designated areas for street vendors who'd been kicked off the sidewalk opened in August.

However, Hai has largely remained a lone man in his quest. He's been told by city leaders to tread carefully around diplomatic cars, and also received death threats that warranted police protection.

City leaders eventually stepped in to set up a new task force that will only react when complaints are made, essentially undercutting Captain Sidewalk's authority.

The move was welcomed by street vendors who have been left devastated, with many seen crying and yelling when police or soldiers seize their food stands.

"The person who gave this order is just heartless," Nguyen Thi Xuyen, a District 1 resident said at a meeting with the authorities.

But some officials have their doubts.

"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's efforts have so far received overwhelming support from VnExpress International readers, who applaud him for finally enforcing the law in a country where people are all too used to getting things done using money under the table.

"Hai is a real leader and understands the importance of safe and accessible sidewalks for the overall community." - Tom Stein

"No double standard please!!! Let this man do his job, duty and public services. Diplomats or prime ministers should follow the laws just like anyone else. Please give us hope that corruption fighting is still on. We make one exception, and the next thing we find that everyone is driving around with a diplomatic cars. Find out who's at the top of the chain of command that requested him to be lenient, please journalists!!!" - Thanh Nguyen

"Mr. Doan Ngoc Hai often lacks tact when speaking but it seems he is the only one that has the will to do his job without fear and favour. There are already laws, bylaws, rules and regulations in place but without enforcing them, they are just mere rhetoric." - Zosimo Jimeno

Are you "Team Captain Sidewalk" or "Team New Task Force"? Do you think Hai's "no nonsense" approach is necessary to restore order on the sidewalks? Or should the city be more considerate to people who depend on the sidewalks to make a living?

The opinions expressed here are personal and do not necessarily match VnExpress's viewpoints. Send your opinions here.
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