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City puts squatter markets on the run   2008-11-23 - VNS

Plans for HCM City through 2010 do not envision the continued existence of spontaneously arising squatter markets, but preventing their occurrence will not be easy.

According to the municipal Department of Commerce, there are now 114 squatter marketplaces, causing a loss of public order and sanitation and influencing the operations of nearby officially established marketplaces.

For example, these spontaneously established markets have decreased tax revenue from some official marketplaces by as much as 9 per cent, and environmental sanitation fees by 19 per cent.

A report from the Department of Commerce also indicates that 56 of the city’s squatter markets have seen public disturbances and caused traffic jams.

None of them guarantee the quality or hygiene of the products.

Sanctions against squatter market vendors are not strong enough to prevent their recurrence, said Truong Trung Viet, deputy director of the HCM City Department of Commerce.

In many squatter markets, vendors simply hop on their motorbikes to set up shop elsewhere when they see authorities coming.

When local officials arrived at the Truong Dai Bridge connecting District 12 and Go Vap District to fine tens of produce vendors on motorbikes and bicycles for slowing traffic, the vendors bolted, with police chasing some all the way to Hoc Mon District.

According to Nguyen Thi Cam Chi, vice-chairwoman of the Linh Trung Ward People’s Committee, the punishment only had a temporary effect as the squatter market reappeared a few days later.

Hot spots

Squatter markets may be a dime a dozen, especially in locations frequented by students and workers in Binh Tan, Go Vap, Thu Duc and Binh Thanh Districts, but they are making a lot of money.

Business is booming at a squatter market on Truong Minh Giang Street, the oldest and biggest in Go Vap District. Many years ago, it only offered a few goods for sale, but has since expanded as more and more people move to the area.

It nearly takes up the entirety of Truong Minh Giang Street and alleys in the area.

While a squatter market on Le Van Quoi Street in Binh Tan District attracts numerous customers after work despite unsanitary products, the renovated Le Van Quoi Marketplace nearby is relatively empty.

The spacious Binh Tri Marketplace opened over a year ago, but still does not have as many customers as a 10-year-old squatter market on Binh Tri Street. One jewelry seller at the Binh Tri Marketplace complained that the squatter market is putting many established marketplace vendors out of business.

Aside from attracting a lot of business, squatter markets also seem to be drawing in a lot of problems.

Squatter markets along Thap Muoi, Mai Xuan Thuong and Chu Van An Streets frequently inundate their environs with sewage and litter.

The five squatter markets in Thu Duc District’s Linh Trung Ward are often the site of public disorder and environmental pollution. Three of them open in the afternoon on the perimeter of the Linh Trung 1 Export Processing Zone to serve workers getting off their shift.

Many of those workers said they wanted to go to the Thu Duc Marketplace for food with higher safety and quality standards but were put off by the inconvenience of having to drive 15 minutes to get there or having to pay a parking fee. Customers at squatter markets can just drive up any given stall.

Goods like vegetables, fish and meat at various squatter markets in Binh Tan District are exposed to smoke and dust, and then served to employees of the PouYuen Co and Tan Tao Industrial Park.

Many of the problems associated with squatter markets have seeped into established marketplaces. District 5’s historic Binh Tay Marketplace is often beset with public disorder and illegal occupancy due to it being the largest wholesale market in the region and its short distance from the Cho Lon Bus Station.

Many argue that swift and consistent action against squatter markets is all that needed to get rid of them. However, despite several sweeps, results have been meager. Binh Tan District’s Tan Tao A Ward has only 12 inspectors, so catching all violations in the area is near impossible, according to ward chairman Le Van Hung.

Local authorities needed to arrange residents’ petty trading activities in a clearly delineated area under tight management before clearing squatter markets, said Pham Phuong Thao, chairwoman of the HCM City People’s Council at a meeting held by the HCM City People’s Council in Tan Tao A Ward, Binh Tan District last week.

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