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HCMC urban planning ‘mistakes’ cost Thu Thiem families dear

Multiple violations in the planning of a new urban area have forced some Saigon families to live in slums.

Amidst the growth of a new urban area and financial center on a peninsula in Ho Chi Minh City, some of its former residents live in makeshift homes after their land was taken from them for the project without due process being followed, including the provision of adequate resettlement and compensation, and the taking of land that was not included in the original approved plan. The peninsula in District 2 lies across the city’s center over the Saigon River.

Water logged roads created by construction sites are something that the residents have to negotiate daily. Even after most of their neighbors have moved away, some families have refused to follow suit because of a murky compensation and resettlement process. Government inspectors have pointed out that HCMC authorities did not follow the approved plan in retaking 4.3 hectares from a residential area in Binh An Ward, and that this area does not belong to the part that was to be retaken.


Some people have turned the abandoned land around them into gardens. They say they are surviving with scant security, their belongings stolen quite often.

Nguyen Thi Ha stands in front of her house in Binh An Ward. “Where I stand there used to be many houses, but now, there’s just my family left. I’ve been here for almost a decade now, but I have to keep my property, because it lies outside the area that can be revoked under the plan (for the new urban area),” she says.

Hoang Minh Hai lives with his wife in this house. “I am happy that the inspectors have identified the violations by the city authorities, but still worried because everything is still uncertain.”

Across Hai’s place is Phuong’s ‘house.’ Her house has already been retaken, but she has managed to stay, using metal sheets to build a temporary shelter. Authorities still have no proper answer for her case.

Some people have moved away following the city’s decision to revoke their land, but after learning that the area is still in limbo, they’ve decided to rent out their places. “The owner divide the house into rooms of little more than 10 square meters each. All tenants are poor workers. We stay here because the rent cost is cheap and it’s near the inner city,” says Nguyen Thanh Thuy, a worker from Long An Province, which neighbors HCMC.

Thuy and her husband are ringing up a canvas sheet to keep rainwater from splashing into their room.

People of Thu Thiem are looking forward to a reasonable solution to deal with all the violations in the urban planning. We need the authorities to give us back whatever they have taken from us,” says resident Nguyen The Vinh.

Violations around compensation and resettlement in Thu Thiem have made headlines in Vietnam for months. In May, some residents lodged their complaints with tears and frustration at a meeting with the city’s legislators, which went on late into the night.

The Thu Thiem new urban area is envisaged as one of the biggest international financial and commercial centers in Southeast Asia.

To develop the megaproject, HCMC spent 10 years relocating 15,000 households, paying out nearly VND30 trillion ($1.32 billion) in compensation.

However, the project has been caught up in a relocation scandal as more than 100 affected families said their houses were not included in the demolition list according to the original planning map drawn up in 1996 and approved by the Prime Minister.

The map was earlier reported to be missing, and controversy has raged ever since. Some officials say the map never existed, but an architect claims to have a copy of it.

Meanwhile, media reports have surfaced about many Thu Thiem residents spending years filing complaints with different government agencies about improper seizure of their properties as well as poor compensation. Many have traveled multiple times between Hanoi and Saigon seeking justice.

The Government Inspectorate earlier this month suggested that the PM guides the Ministry of Construction and HCMC authorities to redraw the map and deal appropriately with individuals or agencies that have committed violations in revoking land, site clearance, compensation and resettlement.

The inspectors have also said that HCMC authorities should review each and every complaint lodged by District 2 residents and redress their grievances as soon as possible.