Secrecy and lack of accountability are two ingrained hallmarks of Communist party governance in Vietnam. The lack of trust in public officials, and simmering resentment at widespread corruption, means that even the seemingly innocuous task of installing festive decorations can lead to a backlash. As Doan Trang reports, an installation in the centre of Haiphong provoked widespread mockery
City officials in Haiphong had hoped to brighten up the streets of the northern port city with civic art works and installations to mark the coming new year. But far from meeting public approval, their efforts provoked a wave of laughter and parodies from bemused citizens.
People woke up last weekend to find that the main boulevard through the city, Le Hong Phong Street, had been occupied by a giant snake-like creature decorated with plastic yellow flowers.
It was perhaps optimistically styled by city officials as a “dragon flower” public work of art, in celebration of the coming lunar new year.
Less charitable residents, however, said it looked more like a huge worm or snake with some of the characteristics of a Japanese manga character.
Amusement turned to anger when reports emerged that the installation could have cost the city 60 billion VND or US$ 2.68 million.
Nguyen Xuan Binh, the deputy chairman of the Haiphong People’s Committee, on Sunday told the press that the city had bowed to public criticism and ordered the removal of the plastic flowers.
Asked about the total cost of US$ 2.68 for the such an installation, he told the HCMC Legal Daily, that the report amounted to “fake news”. He said that the quoted sum was for decorative works throughout the city and not just for the much derided snake. The flowers were put out every year, he added, to welcome the spring.
It was not the city’s first mishap with decorations attempting to brighten the public mood.
An earlier LED lighting system had been strung up along the same tree lined boulevard at a cost of $1 million, before being hastily removed by the authorities.
The lights had probably meant to suggest swallows or seagulls, but many residents said the shapes reminded them of bikini shaped underwear. Once again, the authorities’ failure to consult outside closed circles had led to red faces.
Other cities have had similar problems. Decorations put up in Ho Chi Minh City’s Ben Thanh market also conformed to a subliminal underwear theme, reminding shoppers of nothing so much as a giant bra.
Such failures have inevitably raised questions about the possibility of corruption, given the big budgets available and highly secretive “under the table” tendering processes.
The Haiphong installation immediately sparked a trend of parodies from Facebook users, amused and appalled as many were at what they called a waste of public money.