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Cablegate: Newest Hcmc Vice Chairman: Bad Habits to Blame For

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 HO CHI MINH CITY 000572

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

DEPT FOR EAP/BCLTV, INR/B
USDOC FOR 3132 USFCS/OIO EAP/A. BACHER

E. O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV ECON SENV SOCI PREL EINV
SUBJECT: NEWEST HCMC VICE CHAIRMAN: BAD HABITS TO BLAME FOR
TRAFFIC, SEWAGE, LAND USE PROBLEMS

-------
SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) HCMC People's Committee's newest Vice Chairman, Nguyen
Van Dua, discussed urban planning and quality of life issues with
Consul General in an initial courtesy call on June 11. Vice
Chairman Dua focused on HCMC's serious waste management, land use
and trafffic issues, and its efforts to attract investment for
municipal projects. He also discussed ideas for vocational
training and policies regarding construction and urban
development.

--------------------------------------------- ------
NO ONE WANTS TO TOUCH IT: SEWAGE AND WASTE DISPOSAL
--------------------------------------------- ------

2. (SBU) The Consul General paid a courtesy call on Mr. Nguyen
Van Dua, the newest of the HCMC People's Committee's five vice-
chairmen, on June 11. The 45-minute discussion focused on urban
planning and quality of life in HCMC, as well as waste management,
vocational training, and investment efforts. According to the Mr.
Dua (hard D), the municipal authorities are deeply concerned about
current inadequate methods for dealing with the large amounts of
waste produced daily. Waste management problems are exacerbated
by leaks in antiquated water and sewage pipes. While local and
Dutch scientists were working to address the waste issue, they had
yet to find solutions. HCMC needed a more comprehensive approach,
to include use of new technologies for landfill, composting, and
waste-to-energy conversion.

3. (SBU) Asked why he thought foreign investors had yet to
express real interest in waste management projects, Vice Chairman
Dua blamed delays in land planning for disposal sites and poor
management practices. In the past, civil servants had focused on
questionable sites, failing to take into consideration the impact
of drive time, environmental hazards, and other factors. The HCMC
government was making adjustments, but the impact had yet to be
felt. While one investor group had developed a plan to process
waste into energy, the costs were too high. HCMC still needs
modern waste disposal technology -- but at an affordable cost.

4. (SBU) According to Mr. Dua, HCMC is studying new ideas for
managing waste, including the use of city waterways, rather than
roads, for transportation. At the same time, the government is
working to raise awareness and encourage sorting and
classification of trash at the household level.

---------------------------------------------
BETTER MANAGEMENT THROUGH VOCATIONAL TRAINING
---------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Vice Chairman Dua noted the importance of improved and
expanded vocational training to raise the quality of the
workforce. Only 30 percent of the labor pool has professional
skills at present, but HCMC hopes to raise that figure to 40
percent in the near future. The Vice Chairman expressed interest
in working with San Francisco, within the framework of the Sister
City relationship, to meet training needs. In particular, he
emphasized the importance of training line supervisors to organize
and manage their workers.

6. (SBU) Asked to choose between joint-venture, general use
vocational schools throughout the city, or more specialized
vocational schools to supply existing industrial parks, Vice
Chairman Dua saw value in both -- one for improving the labor pool
at large, the other for meeting specific labor needs. He looked
forward to discussing appropriate sectors with any interested
investor with sufficient capital. He also cited HCMC's need for a
detailed analysis of labor supply and demand.

-------------------------------------------
HCMC'S FAMOUS TRAFFIC CHAOS ON THE DECLINE?
-------------------------------------------

7. (SBU) Despite signs of improvement in dealing with HCMC's
"famous" traffic problem, Vice Chairman Dua was not satisfied that
sufficient progress had been made. Traffic deaths and injuries
are reportedly down 30 percent compared to last year, but the city
government wants to reduce accidents to the lowest level possible.
The Vice Chairman stressed that easing traffic flow and making
travel within the city safer and more convenient was essential to
improving quality of life for visitors and residents alike.
Public transport is a top priority, and the city is looking at
ways to convince people to take advantage of existing options.
Buses are currently the primary means of transport, but city
planners are examining other options. Vice Chairman Dua asked the
CG to encourage American companies to participate in
transportation projects and expressed his eagerness to accept
recommendations for technical assistance and investment from the
U.S.

-------------------------
URBAN PLANNING NIGHTMARES
-------------------------

8. (SBU) Turning to other large infrastructure and construction
projects, Vice Chairman Dua noted his disappointment with the
Saigon South development, citing the modest number of projects
underway in the relatively large (2600 hectare) area. He had high
praise, however, for the Thu Thiem New Urban Area Project (which
he managed just prior to his promotion in February of this year).
HCMC is soliciting anonymous design proposals and bringing in a
jury of international architects to help select the optimal
design. (Note: Results for the Thu Thiem development project
should be announced o/a July 10, 2003.) Mr. Dua said he expected
bidding packages to go out in October, and encouraged American
participation at every stage. Construction on a new East-West
highway is expected to begin in November, and general upgrades are
planned for the downtown business district.

9. (SBU) Calling the Vietnamese mindset a "disaster" for urban
planning, the Vice Chairman blamed many of the city's housing
problems on the poor quality of existing residential options.
Given the choice, most people preferred to live in their own
houses rather than apartments, leading to a constant effort to out-
build one another. From Mr. Dua's point of view, the new
construction is not only of dubious quality, but the architectural
designs are "ugly." While better apartment quality would
certainly help, any real improvement would require a fundamental
change in attitude. There is district-level authority to approve
most residential construction, but illegal buying and selling of
land is difficult to control, as is building without a permit.

10. (SBU) Vice Chairman Dua stressed the need to change the
mindset and behavior of HCMC's population in order to deal more
responsibly with both urban planning and waste management issues.
He said 2003 had been declared the "Year of Restoring Order in
Public Life," during which time efforts would be made to change
attitudes on littering, driving, construction, and other urban
issues. He remarked that the SEAGAMES (Southeast Asia
Games)competition to be hosted by Vietnam in December 2003 might
provide an opportunity for the HCMC government to launch public
sanitation and anti-litter campaigns.

11. (SBU) Asked to estimate the actual population of HCMC (some
official publications still list the figure as 6 million), Vice
Chairman Dua pointed to the large number of temporary residents
and the huge migratory influx of job-seekers from the provinces as
complicating an accurate count. Describing the need to better
manage the division of labor between HCMC and neighboring
provinces, he hoped HCMC could move toward attracting a more
highly skilled, white-collar workforce to stabilize the
population. When pressed, he did not contradict a population
estimate of "more than 8 million."

12. (SBU) Vice Chairman Dua asked the CG for her "frank
observations" on the current state of the relationship between
city government and the population it served. Noting that ConGen
staff were generally quite pleased to call HCMC home, she cited
police responsiveness as one specific area for improvement.

----------------------------
STRENGTHENING THE SISTERHOOD
----------------------------

13. (SBU) Vice Chairman Dua asked the CG to recommend specific
areas for cooperation with HCMC's Sister City in the U.S. Noting
San Francisco's reputation as being progressive and open-minded,
she recommended pursuing cultural and educational exchanges, mass
transit projects, fire prevention and safety training, vocational
training, and environmental improvement programs. She also
mentioned that Chief Mario Trevino of the San Francisco Fire
Department hoped to visit Hanoi and HCMC in August to participate
in a jointly-organized Fire Prevention and Safety Conference.

--------------------
LOCAL BOY MAKES GOOD
--------------------

14. (SBU) Vice Chairman Dua assumed his new position as one of
HCMC's five Vice Chairmen in February 2003. His portfolio
includes transportation, public works, land administration,
construction, and urban management. He served previously on the
Project Management Board for the Thu Thiem New Urban Area for one
year, and as Secretary of the HCMC District 3 Party Committee for
five years before that. He was Secretary of the HCMC Youth Union,
a traditional stepping-stone to prominence in city and national
politics, during 1992-1996. Vice Chairman Dua holds an advanced
degree in politics, and bachelor's degrees in economics and law.
He understands/speaks some English.

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COMMENT
-------

15. (SBU) ConGen first requested this initial courtesy call more
than two months ago, after Vice Chairman Dua indicated his
interest in meeting after a serendipitous encounter with the CG at
a representational event. However, when we requested an
appointment, we were told that the new Vice Chairman was "not
ready", as he was still getting acquainted with his portfolio.
Having now seen Mr. Dua in action, it is clear he is comfortable
with his new responsibilities and willing to speak openly with USG
officials. Our External Relations Office contacts say he has
already earned a reputation as a hard worker (in the office by
7:00 a.m., does not leave until after 9:00 p.m.), and is more
"openly emotional."

16. (SBU) Vice hairman Dua was confident and engaged throughout
the meeting, asking as many questions as he answered. His
requests for feedback and criticism from the CG were bold and
unusual in a first meeting in the Vietnamese context. This may
indicate that the powers-that-be continue to recognize the
importance of assigning outward-looking non-ideologues to
administer Vietnam's dynamic economic engine. That said, HCMC
covers a huge metropolitan area, with many of the same pluses and
minuses of developing world cities anywhere. Given budget
realities and varying levels of central government control, it
would be unrealistic to expect that even the most enlightened city
officials could solve such massive infrastructure and public
service problems anytime soon.
YAMAUCHI

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