Saigon’s Captain Sidewalk faces death threats as cleanup campaign widens

By Vi Vu   September 6, 2017 | 12:49 am PT
Saigon’s Captain Sidewalk faces death threats as cleanup campaign widens
Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of Saigon's District 1, during a sidewalk inspection in August. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran
It was just a matter of time before someone snapped over the radical cleanup campaign in District 1.

The Saigon official leading the city's sidewalk cleanup campaign has asked police to investigate death threats he has been receiving from people who are apparently upset by the revolution he spearheaded.

Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of District 1, said he has received messages and phone calls from at least six numbers threatening to kill him, local media reported.

However, he has also received more than 3,000 messages throwing support behind his efforts, he told local media during an inspection on Monday night, when most of the city was still taking a break for the long National Day holiday.

That night, he issued tickets to more than 10 cars for parking violations and fined coffee shops and restaurants for letting their customers park and sit on the sidewalk.

He also demoted an official in charge of public order in Tan Dinh Ward after a coffee shop was caught using the sidewalk as a parking lot for the second time.

“This job has been hard for me,” said Nguyen Ngoc Lien Thao, the official involved. Her situation has received sympathy from many people, who said it would have been unsafe for her to fight with the guards at the shop. But others have hailed the ruling as a wake-up call for her colleagues.

District 1 authorities have received mixed reactions since they started the revolution in early February in a bid to take back the sidewalks for their original purpose. Hai 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 last month, and it has already raised fresh controversy.

A video captured on the night of August 7 shows Hai’s team clearing a restaurant from the sidewalk on Nguyen Trai Street. Foreign customers were seen leaving in surprise, and women from the family business were captured trying to wrestle back tables and pushcarts from the cleanup team, who refused to let go even after a 77-year-old man joined the melee.

The incident naturally drew critical headlines; but Hai said that the man and his family had accepted that they were in the wrong, and added that no conflicts would deter him from the campaign.

Hai has already shut down one the city’s biggest parking lots near the Opera House because its license had expired and there was a conflict of interest in management.

He has also asked environment officials to inspect his mother-in-law’s restaurant for dumping untreated sewage and fine her if she is found guilty.

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