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Chaotic urban plan
Son Nguyen
Friday,  May 11, 2018,20:53 (GMT+7)

Chaotic urban plan

Son Nguyen

Compensation and relocation have long been a painful process in the course of development, but rarely has there been any project that has stoked agony, protests and social chaos like the scheme surrounding Thu Thiem New Urban Area in HCMC’s District 2. Such distress erupted into multiple layers of indignation at a meeting on May 9 between the city’s National Assembly deputies and affected residents. The meeting, as covered in local media, was awash with numerous accusations of wrongdoing by local authorities that have stripped local residents of their properties and their livelihoods. And that ordeal has been two decades long.

In fact, the saga started shortly after the Prime Minister issued Decision 367/TTg in 1996 to develop Thu Thiem Peninsula into a new urban area. Under the decision alongside a map of scale 1/5000 for the area, the new town would cover 930 hectares, inclusive of a resettlement area of 160 hectares for residents affected by the project.

Then came zoning plans and detailed maps of scale 1/2000, and site clearance and relocation accordingly. Under such zoning plans penned by the city government, the new town was zoned bigger, and thus the resettlement area of 160 hectares was annexed into the future town, while the affected people would be relocated farther afield in different clusters, not in a concentrated zone next to the new town as originally planned, according to the news site at cand.com.vn. Such a change was deliberately conducted by the city, and contradicted the original plan approved by the Prime Minister, says the news site.

In late 2005, according to the online newspaper Vietnamnet.vn, the city government issued its own Decision No. 6565/QD-UBND adjusting the zoning plan for Thu Thiem of scale 1/5000. The municipal government clarifies that its new decision replaces Decision 367/TTg of the Prime Minister, an act experts say overstepped the bounds of the city’s authority. Another controversial point is that the new decision does not mention the resettlement zone in its scope, says Vietnamnet.vn.

Throngs of Thu Thiem residents have ever since strongly protested against plans commanded by the city government, insisting that their properties – land and houses – were not affected by the original master plan.

In many encounters, residents demanded that the city’s authorities show the original map as the basis for site clearance, but such a plea has never been met. Even during a meeting between the people and HCMC chairman Nguyen Thanh Phong last June, according to Nguoi Lao Dong, the residents continued to challenge the municipal government, stressing their land had been illegally seized. The city leader at the time explained there remained differences in comprehending the map and supporting documents between relevant agencies on one side and the residents on the other.

The protests have never died out over the years, but the latest move by local government to proceed with development is seen as the final straw that breaks the camel’s back.

At a news briefing on May 2, the city announced plans to invite bidders for plots of land covering 7.8 hectares in Thu Thiem. And at the event, the drama reached a new twist when HCMC People’s Committee office manager Vo Van Hoan told reporters that the original map of scale 1/5000 was missing, and relevant agencies had failed to find it over the years, according to local media.

Municipal authorities also said they had asked central agencies for help to look for copies of the map, but to no avail. Nguyen Hong Diep, a senior official at the Government Inspectorate, even said that such a map has never existed, according to Dan Tri.

However, a resident in District 2 shortly after that showed the map with all the seals, casting doubt on the authorities’ claim that the map is nowhere to be found. And, to add to the city government’s confusion, former chairman of the city government Vo Viet Thanh asserted he was holding a set of 13 original maps. 

In an interview with Tuoi Tre, the former city chairman says a lot of changes – for the worse – have been made to the original plan, separating native residents from their land, while the Prime Minister’s decision was to help them settle down right next to the new town. “In legal terms, any changes to the original plan must be approved by the Prime Minister… In terms of morality, any zoning plan must benefit the native people; they cannot be rendered destitute due to any zoning plans,” he stresses.

Thanh, who on behalf of the city government presented the original plan to the Prime Minister, says he suggested that pagoda, temple, church and seminary be retained, but to date, almost all have been leveled to the ground, according to Tuoi Tre.

Back to the meeting this Wednesday, many residents took turns to assert their properties were not affected by the original plan, showing the maps to back their claims. However, they were still coercively relocated, their houses being demolished.

Le Thi Ngoc Nga of Binh Khanh Ward told the meeting her house was torn down and her family was forced out though authorities did not issue any decision redeeming the land, according to Thanh Nien. Nga has for over 10 years now sent numerous complaints and letters of accusations to various agencies, but no answer was given.

Even those residents whose properties are inside the zoning plans also made strong protests at the meeting over the compensation rate. A woman named Nguyen Ngoc Thanh said she had paid nearly 50 taels of gold, or some VND1.8 billion at the current price, to acquire a house on Luong Dinh Cua Street, but she was given only VND94 million in clearance compensation, Tuoi Tre reports. Another claimed she got VND18 million a square meter of her house in an area where the luxury Sala housing complex has taken shape, but land there is now sold at a whopping VND350 million (over US$15,000) per square meter.

The key aim of rezoning Thu Thiem and forcing the people out, said a resident identified as Tran Thi My at the meeting, is to have land for sale to investors to develop luxury housing projects whose prices are hundreds of times higher than compensation rates, according to Tuoi Tre. Another said it is money that has distorted the original plan for Thu Thiem.

At the aforesaid meeting, Thu Thiem’s residents said that given the injustice they have incurred, they no longer have confidence in local authorities. All the issues related to Thu Thiem “must be handed over to central authorities and the National Assembly for oversight, not just NA deputies of HCMC, because of serious wrongdoing here,” a resident of Binh Khanh Ward is quoted in Thanh Nien as saying at the meeting.

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