Saigon's sidewalk cleanup pioneer asks for 'carte blanche' to plow ahead

By Huu Cong   August 4, 2017 | 03:55 pm GMT+7
Saigon's sidewalk cleanup pioneer asks for 'carte blanche' to plow ahead
Doan Ngoc Hai (in white), stands next to a car blue government license plate on the sidewalk of Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. Photo by VnExpress/Duy Tran

District 1's vice chairman Doan Ngoc Hai is asking for the power to 'punish anyone that breaks the rules, even officials.'

The general chaos has returned to Saigon's sidewalk after a fanfare campaign to clean up the streets fell flat. Doan Ngoc Hai, the instigator behind the campaign, is demanding more power to honor his commitment to turn District 1 into a “Little Singapore”.

"I promised to bring back order to the sidewalks in District 1 this year, but to fulfill it, the city needs to give me carte blanche to punish anyone that breaks the rules, even officials,” Hai, the vice chairman of District 1, said at a city meeting on Friday.

Hai led the sidewalk campaign in February in a bid to take back the sidewalks for their original purpose.

Barriers were put up and police were deployed to stop motorbikes from driving on the sidewalks, while vehicles have been towed, including government and foreign diplomatic cars outside five-star hotels.

The project has been widely applauded by locals, but it has also raised concerns for being too extreme, with street vendors being the unhappiest.

As the voice and face of the campaign that repeatedly made headlines for two months, Hai said at the outset: “I won’t hesitate to get into a conflict,” to express how far he was willing to go to make the plan work. “I will retire if it fails.”"

But Hai mysteriously stepped out of the campaign in April, telling local media that he had to do so as “requested by district leaders.”

With Hai’s hands tied, the mission was passed down to local units, and things returned to the old days.

Restaurants and vendors have returned to the sidewalks, laying out their chairs and tables like nothing had ever happened. Cars and motorbikes have been parked freely on the sidewalks, including some carrying blue government license plates.

Hai, 47, said the campaign has fallen flat because officials were balked at confronting “leaders” and “interest groups”.

“If we want to restore people's trust in this campaign, every single official has to be determined and not afraid to get into conflicts with leaders and interest groups,” he said in April, without naming names.

In June, the city announced the return of Hai. Now, he is demanding more power.

"Obviously, the sidewalk business generates huge profits for some," Hai said at the Friday meeting. "Some officials don't want to crack down on the sidewalk disorder because they can easily benefit from it."

For now, it is not clear whether Hai will get what he's asking for.

 
 
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