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The poor will not be put aside for Vietnam's economic growth

The poor will not be put aside for Vietnam's economic growth

Saturday, July 18, 2015, 18:31 GMT+7

Editor's note: Le Cong Si, an architect, dreams that in 2035 the poor in Vietnam would receive more social attention in his entry submitted to the “Ky Vong Viet Nam 20 Nam Toi” (“My Expectations for Vietnam in 20 Years”) writing contest.

During his lifetime, former Prime Minister Vo Van Kiet was concerned about how to keep the poor from being put aside of the country’s economic growth. He also urged for policies to seek radical solutions to the needy’s problems.

1. Dreaming of a society which is prosperous and modern yet friendly and humanitarian

My belief is that when it comes to investment in projects, forced land reclamation is the last resort for all parties concerned, including the government, residents and project investors.

Against everyone’s will, forced land reclamation keeps happening. The retrieval enforced at private-invested economic zones has undermined residents’ faith in the State apparatus and estranged them from investors.

There are areas which have been zoned for quite a long time but have seen limited construction activity everywhere.

As suggested by the Land Law, people are expected to lead a better life after land reclamation. However, the majority of affected residents resign themselves to relocated houses or apartments which usually do not fit their lifestyle, as most of them are farmers and do not have stable jobs. Many others may pocket large compensation sums, build their own houses and enjoy their newly-gained material comforts hastily, which has created social mayhem, to a certain extent.

The poor make up an inseparable part of every large city. It’s evident that part of the local population shifts to large cities for employment opportunities. Except for a minority who manage to find jobs that suit their educational levels and skills, others are freelance workers.

They typically live in makeshift rented rooms, which are plagued by poor hygienic conditions, explosion hazards and even social ills. A stable job or peddling stall and decent accommodation remain a luxury to them.

So my dream is that Vietnam in the next 20 years would no longer see forced land reclamation. Affected people should be beneficiaries from projects.

Cities would not only look gorgeous and civilized with modern skyscrapers and neat pavements but would also be friendly and humanitarian. There, the underprivileged and migrant workers would be able to make a proper living with stable jobs and decent accommodation.

2. Suggested solutions

As stipulated, except for projects in national defence and security and public welfare in which the State offers compensation on land retrieval, investors of commercial projects take their own initiative and negotiate compensation rates with affected residents. Only with projects in which negotiation comes to a standstill does the State intervene.

Obligatoratory land reclamation in such circumstances is rightful, but residents’ freedom to decide on their property seems not to be respected. That may easily leave the poor feeling that the government stands on the affluent’s side and shoves them out of the locales’ growth course.

To avoid forced land retrieval, the benefts of each side must be reconciled. In such circumstances, the government should serve as an umpire only, while investors make transactions with locals according to market principles. People absolutely have a full right over their legitimate property.

Even when it is “allowed” (locals have received compensation for over 80 per cent of land but negotiation grinds to a standstill), forced reclamation should not take place either.

 To do so, investors should make sure their planned areas are somewhat larger than those actually demanded. Such “surplus” areas will be turned into small parks or vegetated sections, or for backup purposes. If negotiation comes to a halt, these areas will be employed for the projects without forcing residents to move out.

Investors should also consider allowing inhabitants to join the projects by sharing the financing for a certain period as co-owners. If so, inhabitants would not object to, but show support for the projects instead.

In addition, serious surveys of how inhabitants live after site clearance and relocation should be conducted to make the most of the Land Law.

Policies should also be adopted to provide vocational training on demand for affected residents. They should not receive sums of money only, as with limited awareness and unstable jobs, they are very likely to use the compensation for passing material enjoyment, and later become broke.

Projects which fail to comply with commitments on environmental protection need to be tackled by sternly fining their investors, or even revoking their permits for good if they make repeated offences.

The government should also confiscate land of projects which have been zoned but seen almost no construction activity, or shown signs of being sold. The projects can also be entitled to deadline extensions for new investors to show up, or be turned into small parks, dependent on their scale.

If so, urban greeneries would expand, with tree density exceeding the zoning target. Large cities would thus become ideal living space in terms of climate.

To avoid projects being “distorted” at their investors’ will, this requires debate from experts and public opinions.

Clinging to sidewalks and peddling their wares is the easiest option for the urban destitute and freelance migrant workers to eke out a living. Eradicating sidewalk peddling is the simplest measure the government can adopt, but it does not radically solve the employment problem for those people.

Apart from long-running employment policies, satellite hubs should be formed to put a curb on migration, which has put mounting pressure on large cities.

A temporary solution is zoning areas for peddling. The government in many locales has allowed people to use part of sidewalks to display their goods. However, only owners of houses with facades fronting the street, or the better-off people, benefit from that.

Where would the poor who live in alleys and migrant workers do their peddling then? The government should thus arrange fixed spots to sell items on certain streets, and should issue regulations on where and when mobile peddlers can park their carts so as to avoid marring the urban look and impeding traffic flow.

Peddling may be seen as a a hindrance to urban looks, but in humanitarian terms, peddling hygienically ensured food is a simple way for the needy to carve out their own living without seeking aid from the State. Peddling is also an alluring way of life which suits Vietnamese people’s flexibility and mobility.

According to travel firms, stalls which offer safe, delectable street food add to the country’s appeal among foreign tourists.

Last of all, the State should offer more real estate incentive packages and facilitate house purchases among poor people and low incomers as much as possible.

Recent debates over how large such apartments should be, 20, or 30 square meters or more, to avoid them turning into aerial slums, are not necessary.

Just leave the job to architects and designers, who are smart and creative enough to build small yet comfy apartments.

“Ky Vong Viet Nam 20 Nam Toi” is a competition organized by the World Bank in Vietnam and Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that encourages local youths to write down their wildest, yet feasible, dreams about how Vietnam will change in 20 years’ time.

TUOI TRE NEWS

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