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Saturday, August 13, 2022

Street vendor ban: much remains to be done

Updated: 16:21’ - 24/07/2008

An old bike with two crates in the rear, Nguyen Thi Huong, 34, wakes up at 3 every morning, pedaling to Hanoi’s wholesale market Long Bien where she buys fruit for peddling through city streets all day to earn a few dollars.

Earning a mere VND 30,000-40,000 (nearly three dollars) a day, which might be a chickenfeed for wealthier city dwellers,  Huong can afford food and schooling  for her three children, now living with their father in Ha Tay northern province.

Wiping sweat on her forehead, Huong said sadly: “With just 0.1 ha of farmland, our family can manage to have rice for 10 months a year at most. For the last two years, I’ve followed my villagers to come to Hanoi selling fruit. I can save over one million dong a month. Now the city bans peddlers, how can I make money for sending home?”

Huong is one of around 10,000 street hawkers whose life is largely affected by Hanoi administration’s ban on peddling and all forms of businesses on sidewalks.

The new rule, which was issued early this year and enforced on July 1, aims to bring order to the city, ease traffic flow and ensure food safety, city officials said.

Under the regulation, vendors are now banned from selling goods on big streets and outside government offices, schools, hospitals, bus stops, and religious, cultural and historical sites.

The ban initially applies to 62 streets out of the city’s 670, according to Ms. Nguyen Thi Nhu Mai, deputy director of the municipal Industry and Trade Service.

The municipal government early this month launched a month-long campaign to ensure enforcement of the new regulation. Under strict supervision, main streets were now clear of street hawkers as well as small business activities on the pavements.

“I’m very pleased that sidewalks now belong to the community again, not to just a few individuals,” Le Thanh Huyen in Hoan Kiem district told the Vietnam News daily.

Despite such support from city residents, much remained to be done on the part of local authorities to put the new law into life since the city appeared to have still vague solutions to assist street hawkers, 90% of whom were poor rural immigrants, analysts warned.

Vu Bac Binh from Thai Binh northern province, a former soldier now living on selling guava, lamented: “We peddlers are mostly poor people. The ban will drive us on our beam-ends.” 

To help peddlers maintain their business, the city administration had requested districts to form marketplaces for them. However, most district leaders said this plan was not feasible because under the city’s planning, there was no land slated for such markets.

“We have no land for temporary markets while moving vendors to alleys and lanes will obviously turn these small streets into markets, which is contrary to what the new law is aimed at,” said Mr. Lam Anh Tuan, vice president of the People’s Committee of Hai Ba Trung district.

Mr. Nguyen Quoc Hung, director of Hanoi Transport and Public Work Service, also agreed that it was difficult to arrange markets for street hawkers since the city even lacked land for transport, let alone markets.

At the same time, it was not easy to move peddlers into markets given the mobile nature of peddling, said Mr. Nguyen Manh Hoang, director of the Trade Service.

The city police also said the street vendor ban might prompt spontaneous formation of temporary markets, worsening the current traffic congestion.

Analysts also pointed out that the city administration had failed to work out a specific roadmap to stabilize the life for affected groups, saying the local government had not adopted any feasible plan to support them.

While effective supports for street hawkers remained a puzzle to municipal authorities, the new law itself was impractical in some respects, analysts said.

It was not that simple to supervise the observance of the law, the analysts said, doubting that the city can have enough forces to do this job.

From the economic point of view, peddling created jobs, Dr. Nguyen Sy Dung wrote on the online news service VietnamNet, saying even though it was a hard job, it was the only way to make a living for many people.

In addition, bicycle-stores had become part of Vietnamese’s effective distribution networks, Dr. Dung said, stressing that the absence of street vendors also meant sluggish sales of wholesale markets which consequently led to unemployment of small producers.

He also believed peddling was part of the capital city’s transportation network, citing that most of Hanoi streets were narrow and peddling was a convenient way of supplying goods for city dwellers, especially housewives, who would certainly find it difficult to go to shopping centers every day, given the currently underdeveloped urban transit network.

From the social point of view, the new law was not in favor of the poor, Mr. Dung said, pointing to the attachment of peddling to the life of the poor, sellers and buyers alike. For sellers, with a daily income of VND 30,000-50,000, they could buy foods and pay schooling fees and other expenses for their families. Without this source of income, how could they make a living while most of them did not have an occupation.

For buyers, street vendors were suppliers of cheap foods and goods. The lack of this source of supply would take toll on poor consumers, Dr. Dung said.

Nguyen Thu Phuong, a garment worker living on Trung Hoa street said: “I often buy fruit and vegetables from street vendors because their goods are cheaper and even fresher than those sold at markets. In my view, street hawkers were an indispensable source of supply for many Hanoi residents, especially low income earners like us. The ban ignores the demand of a majority of Hanoi consumers.”

From the cultural point of view, street hawkers have been part of Hanoi’s colorful life and women in conical hats selling fruit and flowers have become an indispensable image of Hanoi’s cityscape. Many Hanoians agreed that the absence of this image will largely reduce the distinctive charm of the city.

Prof. Dr. Trinh Duy Luan, director of the Vietnam Sociology Institute, also pointed to the social inequality in the new rule: While the city could provide space for parking cars and motorbikes, it had no space for small traders.

He told online news service Vietimes that the impact on affected groups who were mostly poor rural immigrants was great. While these poor people should have received support to escape from poverty, ironically, they had to spend time and money on finding a new job, so they would become even poorer, he said.

Dr. Luan said the current adoption of polices on urban management remained subjective, saying a policy affecting a particular group or the whole community must be put up for public opinion, especially of those directly affected by that policy.

Many experts also shared this view, citing the failure of a number of recent policies since they did not carefully take into account affected target groups’ opinions. The most recent one was the ban on three- and four-wheeler vehicles.

Although this rule was set to be effective from early this year, its implementation was delayed from time to time since local authorities had failed to support affected drivers in finding a new job.

We called such policies “offside,” Dr. Nguyen Huu Nguyen of Ho Chi Minh City Institute for Social Studies told Tuoi Tre newspaper. He said a social survey on a macro scale must be conducted to find out whether a policy was appropriate and the government should look at the timing and supports required to ensure its successful implementation.

Dr. Luan also agreed that to enable a law to come into life, it needed careful preparations and a detailed roadmap for implementation, citing that the street vendor ban, for instance, might take tens of years to be realized.

He said the removal of peddling may be a right policy to spruce up the city, but not at this moment. As soon as proper solutions concerning the livelihood of peddlers were available, a convenient system of markets and supermarkets meeting city dwellers’ demand was in place and cultural value could no longer be found in peddling, this trade would automatically disappear, he said (VLLF).-


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