Organizers of the traditional don ca tai tu music festival present awards to winners of a photo contest in front of the 61-feet model of a traditional instrument
"Cong tu Bac Lieu" was a term applied to the children of rich landlords who enjoyed lavish lifestyles in southern Vietnam during the colonial period.
It is said that one even showed off his wealth by boiling eggs over a fire built out of bank notes.
The term has been recently resurrected in newspaper editorials condemning wasteful spending on last month's festival dedicated to traditional don ca tai tu music genre (April 24-29).
According to incomplete reports from the project management units and festival organizers, officials spent VND2 trillion (US$94.86 million) on over 20 construction projects for the event, in addition to its organizing fees, Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh (Ho Chi Minh Citty Law) newspaper reported on May 6.
The next day, Bac Lieu authorities held a press conference, saying that not all the projects were solely for the festival.
Le Thi Ai Nam, deputy chairwoman of the provincial People’s Committee, said the province’s Party Unit had instructed relevant agencies to complete 26 projects ahead of the festival, of which ten were private and two were for urban beautification.
However, she also admitted that two projects designed exclusively for the festival costed VND292 billion ($13.85 million), including the Cao Van Lau Theater and Exhibition Center and the Cao Van Lau Memorial House.
Missing the mark
Ahead of the festival, Bac Lieu authorities announced two projects would be recognized as national treasures, including the Cao Van Lau Theater and Exhibition Center and a giant model of the dan kim (two-string moon-shaped guitar).
The dan kim model in Hung Vuong Square was recognized as the biggest of its kind, with a height of 18.6 meters (61 feet).
The Cao Van Lau Theater and Exhibition Center was also touted as the largest structure in the shape of three non la (conical leaf hats) the biggest of which stands more than 24 meters (78 feet) tall with a composite roof 45 meters (147 feet) in diameter.
However, the center wasn't even completed in time for the festival and several events planned at the theater were organized at other venues.
Tiles at the dan kim structure fell off of its base just a few days after the event concluded.
No roads, electricity
At a meeting with Bac Lieu authorities on April 25, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said he heard the provincial Party Unit chief thanking residents for accepting difficulties to ensure the success of the festival.
“It sounds heart-warming but did the residents accept these difficult conditions?” Dung asked.
He said he would have chosen to build roads to 13 remote communes or electrical wires to the 371 neighborhoods that lack electricity instead of building a theater.
“How can there be singing when poor families have no electricity?... this music can be played at home when there is no theater. Don ca tai tu can be played on a river...,” he said.
Dung said that the provincial Party Unit chief Vo Van Dung had reported the ongoing difficulties to him, including hospitals so overloaded that patients are crammed into hallways--two or three to a bed.
Today 13 communes remain inaccessible by car and 371 neighborhoods have no electricity.
Economist Le Dang Doanh said the story of Bac Lieu spending so lavishly on a festival should offer a lesson to other localities.
“There should be such spending on festivals but it should never come at the cost of social welfare projects,” he was quoted by Phap Luat Thanh Pho Ho Chi Minh as saying.
“There should be a procedure for hosting festival that require authorities to poll the residents and seek approval from the local legislature.”
In an editorial published by Thanh Nien, Pham Van, a Ho Chi Minh City civil servant, said corruption can happen when local authorities choose construction projects without supervision from residents.
“Bad things happen when construction projects bring huge profits to the chosen contractors,” said Van, who claimed of having worked at a PR company that organized many events for government agencies in the Mekong Delta.
“The organizing party is always willing to pay kickbacks to government officials. Sometimes, they can be up to ten percent of the contract value.”
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