Where is the rule of law?

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"How many ears must a man have before he hears people cry" (Bob Dylan)

A famous refrain by Dylan referring to man's inhumanity to man. There is nothing less happening in Vietnam at present and it will have grave consequences for the country.

The most serious incidents have involved land seizures from poor farming families in several locations, acts by local government officials which have been condemned by the Prime Minister but continue to reoccur. Farmers and families affected are attempting to fight back to protect their livelihoods and families only to be overwhelmed by thousands of police. Vietnamese citizens have no legal recourse to retain their property or to at the very least receive fair compensation for their losses. Farmers receive by law US$1,760 for 360 sq meters, while market value for such land is exponentially higher. Not to mention the police attacking two journalists who were attempting to cover the story.

Those affected by polluters are also at a loss as to how they can survive when these companies continue to kill and injure the health of the life in and around the rivers. Again, these people have no legal recourse and are prohibited from suing these companies collectively. The violators continue with impunity while occasionally paying miniscule fines that have no deterrent effect whatsoever. Officials responsible for enforcing the laws are either completely incompetent or are quite likely receiving bribes which allow these companies to save thousands of dollars a day by pumping toxic waste into the backyards of millions of people. There cannot be any other conclusion.

It was reported the other day that the firefighting departments in Ho Chi Minh City are grossly unprepared for fire prevention and firefighting. While the city has added hundreds of high-rise buildings (over seven stories) there has been no initiative or planning to upgrade fire departments accordingly. At present, there is no protection for high-rise buildings. Government officials claim they do not have enough people or budget for equipment. How often are fire inspections legitimately done in HCMC? The likely answer is seldom. Any violations found, assuming any inspection is done, can easily be forgotten by paying a small fee.

Workplace safety is no different. The law requires safety training for all employees, which is typically a monopoly of the government, and safety inspections of work sites. It is highly unlikely that these inspections are being done based on my own experience doing safety inspections at construction sites where every conceivable violation can be found in abundance. How do we pass inspections? Guess"¦

Finally, traffic safety is out of control and getting worse. There is a woefully inadequate number of police patrolling the city, people are being killed and maimed at an alarming rate the casualty rates are higher than a war zone - and nothing changes. There are motorbikes, cars and trucks by the tens of thousands on the road without even having basic safety equipment such as headlights, taillights, mirrors, marker lights, not to mention reckless drivers, drivers going the wrong way on one-way streets, running red lights, and showing complete disregard for pedestrians. Isn't it ironic that an elderly foreigner was killed crossing the street in Hanoi while doing research on traffic safety?

By Roy Little
The writer is an American expat who lives and works in Ho Chi Minh City

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