Vietnam's forgotten fines and the offenders who escape punishment

By Staff reporters   September 30, 2017 | 09:00 pm PT
While it might be easy to create and raise public order fines, enforcing them has proven to be a different story.

For a country where the average annual income was around $2,200 last year, you'd have thought that heavy fines would be enough to deter most people from violating public order regulations.

Yet in reality it is difficult to walk down the street without seeing someone breaking the rules, and many violators don't even know these fines exist.

Up to VND1 million ($44) for throwing cigarette butts on the ground

A government decree that has been effective since February states that anyone found tossing cigarette butts in apartment buildings, shopping malls and public places can be fined between VND500,000 and VND1 million. The act of urinating or defecating in such places also carries a fine of VND1-3 million.

When the decree first came into effect, police in Hanoi fined dozens of offenders as well as named and shamed them in newspapers.

However, streets riddled with cigarette butts are still a common sight seven months later, and no one seems to  be issuing fines against offenders anymore.

VND100,000-300,000 ($4.4-13.2) for smoking in public places

Vietnam's Tobacco Control Law, which came into effect in May 2013, completely bans smoking at healthcare, childcare and education establishments (except universities, colleges and academies), children's playgrounds and places with a high fire risk.

The law also bans smoking in workplaces, universities, colleges and academies, public places and on public transport.

Those found violating this law can be fined VND100,000-300,000. Meanwhile, those found selling tobacco to people under 18 years old or employing people under 18 years old to sell tobacco can be fined between VND500,000 and VND2 million.

However, at the time the law came into effect, the northern province of Lao Cai was the only province or municipality that reportedly fined offenders.

At least VND600,000 ($26.4) for letting dogs wander freely or without a muzzle


While letting dogs wander freely without a muzzle or a leash is against the law, it is not uncommon to encounter these dogs in Hanoi. Photo by VnExpress/Phuong Son.

A government decree that came into effect on September 15 dictates that owners who take the dogs out in public places without a muzzle or a leash will be fined VND600,000-800,000.

However, dogs can still be found roaming freely in Hanoi and no fines have been issued.

Speaking to VnExpress, Doan Hong Phong, deputy director of Hanoi's Animal Health Department, claimed that local authorities should be enforcing the law, not his department.

In the south, Saigon has already been sending out teams to catch stray dogs, and many owners have been fined.

Up to VND5 million ($220) for using mobile phones at gas stations

The VND2-5 million fine for using mobile phones at gas stations came into effect back in August 2012, with the task of punishing offenders handed down to the firefighting police.

However, to this day, many drivers still pull out their phones while waiting at gas stations without fear of being punished.

Some legal experts have blamed the lack of enforcement on the fact that in most cases, no specific unit has been tasked with enforcing them. This causes relevant departments to evade responsibility and pass the buck.

Additionally, in many cases the offenders are too poor to be able to pay the heavy fines so they are shown leniency and only issued reprimands instead of fines.

“We should learn from Singapore and have a special police unit in charge of these issues,” one lawyer suggested. “We need to issue heavy fines or make the offenders do community service.”

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