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Predictable failure of a movement
The Saigon Times Daily
Monday,  Dec 25, 2017,18:31 (GMT+7)

Predictable failure of a movement

The Saigon Times Daily

The success is short-lived, as neat and tidy pavements along major streets in HCMC’s District 1 are no longer seen these days and the situation has returned to their original chaotic state, despite a painstaking movement waged since February to win back the sidewalks for pedestrians.

When the movement was kicked off early this year, Doan Ngoc Hai, vice chairman of the district, showed off his determination to push the drive to the final success, with a noble, ambitious goal to make the district’s precincts as clean and tidy as Singapore. Hai himself took to the street, flexing his muscles by ordering his men to get tough on all violators. Wrongly-parked vehicles were towed away, illegally-erected structures were torn down, and vendors encroaching on the sidewalk were harshly punished or had their facilities confiscated.

In the first few months, the streets looked more spacious, and the hard-fought battle with widespread public backing was seen a success, despite vocal protests from those whose interests were affected. The vice chairman, however, could not endlessly pursue the movement, and could not cover all corners of the district, so pavements after being cleared have been handed over to grassroots authorities for management.

Ward-level authorities, however, have proved themselves incapable of maintaining the newly-restored urban order. Street vendors roam the sidewalk again these days, vehicles are parked randomly on the pavement, and numerous shop owners reclaim spaces in front of their venues, ignoring all urban space management regulations. All now look like the movement has never been launched.

Local media says grassroots authorities are reluctant to go against encroachers since they also enjoy benefits from business spaces along pavements. Apart from taxes and fees, shop owners at street-front business venues also make financial contributions to ward-level authorities, often on a regular basis. Authorities, therefore, cannot voluntarily cut off their sources of income.

On a wider perspective, however, the deep-rooted practice of running street-front businesses has existed for decades in HCMC, and cannot be removed in a simple movement. Tens of thousands of household businesses in the city have utilized spaces in front of their venues to earn a living, and to pay trillions of Vietnam dong in taxes a year. Such businesses form a sizeable part of the city’s economy, and cannot be easily wiped off without causing a major setback for the economy.

Urban order restoration is still much needed, but before such a goal can be achieved, the gradual economic transformation should take place first so that petty commercial activity by household businesses along the street no longer takes the upper hand over concentrated commercial centers. Data from surveys early this year showed such family-owned businesses still accounted for roughly 80% of Vietnam’s total retail revenue, and in major cities, though separate data are not available, such promotions are also deemed high.As such, any movement to hastily change the habit of running street-front businesses is therefore destined for failure.

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