Rocky road to the right end
A strong campaign launched weeks ago by authorities of HCMC’s District 1 to restore order on sidewalks has achieved encouraging results, when footways along major streets now look more spacious, pedestrians feel more secure, and traffic to some extent is more disciplined. The greatest achievement, however, is that the endeavor has won strong backing from all walks of life, from top leaders of the country to the media and the public.
For many days on end, authorities of District 1 led by vice chairman Doan Ngoc Hai have aggressively tackled all violations by bringing down illegal structures on the sidewalk, removing chairs and tables of cafes and eateries, towing away autos parked at wrong places, and imposing heavy fines on violators.
Such a strong determination has sent positive ripple waves across the city, and inspired authorities elsewhere in the country to roll up their sleeves for the same cause. The question now, however, is how the campaign can be sustained, and whether well-conceived plans have been made ready to back up the campaign.
The local media, showing strong backing for the campaign, has pointed to the great merits of restoring order on sidewalks.
The urban space in general and the footway in particular must belong to the community, says Thanh Nien newspaper in an analysis. The paper stresses that anyone encroaching on such space must return what they have occupied, whether it is an individual or an organization, private or public.
According to the paper, the effort to redeem the sidewalk for pedestrians shows the determination to eradicate injustice that has existed for decades.
Lao Dong newspaper, in the same chorus, hails efforts by authorities to take back the sidewalk, and stresses that the widespread illegal use of sidewalks has been a reason behind chronic traffic congestion in the city. Similarly, Nguoi Lao Dong newspaper remarks that restoring sidewalk order meets people’s expectations. The paper quotes Tran Duc Tai, deputy police chief of HCMC, as saying that restoring order on the sidewalk is a must to secure safety and other public interests.
Many other districts have followed suit. Grassroots authorities in collaboration with the police have taken to the streets to do away with all cases of sidewalk encroachment. Meanwhile, many people who have long illegally used the sidewalk for business purposes have voluntarily returned the space.
Even in Hanoi City, Hoan Kiem District authorities early this week launched a similar campaign, and within two days, nearly 300 sideway encroachment cases have been tackled, with fines totaling over VND240 million imposed on violators, according to Vnexpress.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, at a regular cabinet meeting in Hanoi yesterday, threw his support behind the campaign in HCMC, branding it “good news.” General To Lam, Minister of Public Security, has urged the police nationwide to lend a helping hand to authorities in the campaign.
There are concerns arising from the iron-fist campaign of removal and demolition, however.
Upon complaints that District 1 authorities have not fully observed the due process of law, the HCMC government explains that authorities have several times called on violators to return public space but to no avail. However, at a meeting on Wednesday, HCMC chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong said he had told authorities to persuade people not to occupy sidewalks before any tough measures are taken.
“For makeshift structures that encroach on sidewalks, violators should be given a certain length of time to remove. Punitive sanctions need to be in accordance with the right procedures and the law on administrative violations,” the chairman is quoted as saying in Tuoi Tre.
Another matter of big concern is the possible economic harm caused by the campaign. The “sidewalk economy”, as business establishments along the street are referred to, will certainly be adversely affected by the campaign.
“The sidewalk economy” has existed for a long time in HCMC, generating decent incomes for thousands of families, says Nguoi Lao Dong. That is not to mention a huge number of poor street vendors who often roam the sidewalk to earn a living, and efforts to restore urban order will strongly impact their livelihood.
According to the paper, instead of thoroughly taking back the sidewalk, competent State agencies should review regulations and conditions on how to use the sidewalk legally.
In Western countries such as France or the Czech Republic, for instance, sidewalks can still be used for business purposes, says Nguoi Lao Dong. Authorities in such countries would determine where and how such urban space can be used for business, and under such conditions, the space will be leased to traders to generate income for the State budget.
Therefore, to win the confidence of the public, especially those having relied on sidewalk businesses, it is imperative that the city government map out feasible policies to ensure that the “sidewalk economy” is not impaired while the campaign is sustained and urban order is restored.