Private encroachment steals riverbanks from city residents

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Lax management by Ho Chi Minh City authorities are robbing residents of an important common property resource - riverbanks.


Located in the heart of the city, the Bach Dang ferry park on the banks of the Saigon River should be a good choice for people to go walking and do other exercises.


However, some two-thirds of its area have been eaten up by coffee shops and motorbike parking lots.


Tuoi Tre reporters found that three coffee shops have set up nearly 100 sets of furniture along the riverbank.


The ferry park's management board said people are free to go walk and do exercises as normal. But residents said no one dares to enter places that look to be owned by someone.


And it is not just access, those who enter the area are asked to order drinks from the shops' menus at prices three to four times higher than usual.


Nam, a local who lives nearby, said: "The city center's riverbank is an ideal place for people to do sightseeing and recreational activities, but it has been used for other purposes.


"In the end, we people are the ones who suffer."


The same situation holds along the banks of the Ong Lon River in Binh Chanh District.


For more than a kilometer, there are 16 coffee shops with over 200 sets of furniture that are open from 5 p.m. till 11 p.m. every day.


Nguyen Van Lam, a local, said every evening the shops open, take up the whole riverbank, and only take the furniture away when agencies come to inspect. "Everything returns back to the previous status soon."


"We people have to order drinks which are very costly, if we want to relax and see the river. We are also reluctant to go for a walk or do exercises there because all the paths have been taken up," Lam said.


An inspection done by Tuoi Tre reporters found that many riverbanks in the city are being eaten up illegally like the Saigon River's banks in District 2's Tran Nao Street, and Thanh Da channel in Binh Thanh District.


According to the HCMC Department of Transport's Waterway Division, more than 180 sites on riverbanks are being illegally used to establish coffee shops, beer shops and eateries.


Phan Hoang Tri, vice director of Waterway Division, said related agencies have handled a few dozen cases recently, but many are still refusing to follow authorities' orders, mainly along the Saigon River and the Thanh Da Channel.


He attributed the current situation partly to local authorities' lax management.


Phan Van Cong, vice chairman of Binh Chanh District's Binh Hung Commune, where the Ong Lon River's banks have been taken up by coffee shops, said they are operating illegally.


Local authorities assigned two officers and 12 militia members to watch the area, but the shops still do their businesses regardless of warnings and fines, Cong said.


Tran Van Manh, head of the Bach Dang ferry park complex's management board, said they were not aware that people were opening coffee shops without licenses and that the management board does not have authority to deal with the cases.


"If localities' authorities don't act strongly, it's very likely that land along the city's riverbanks will not be available in the near future," Tri said.


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