Opposition is growing to the government’s recently announced plan to erect lavish statues across Vietnam to the former president, Ho Chi Minh.
In the forefront of the criticism are some 140 intellectuals, religious figures and activists from civil society groups.
They signed an online petition urging the communist authorities to cancel a plan for 14 large and costly monuments to Ho, who is revered by the party as the father of the nation.
The move comes as Vietnam prepares to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Independence Day on September 2, when Ho Chi Minh declared national independence.
The online petition launched this month called for an immediate halt to the projects.
“We – Vietnamese civilians and independent civil society organizations who sign the petition seriously require the state to urgently cancel those Ho Chi Minh statue projects, bearing in mind the nation’s limited budget and the risk of increasing the deficit and provoking more social insecurity.”
The signatories include Dr Nguyen Quang A from the Civil Society Forum, Pham Chi Dung from the Independent Journalists’ Association of Vietnam, Chu Hao who serves as Director of the Tri Thuc Publishing House, and the Catholic Bishop Paul Nguyen Thai Hop who heads the Episcopal Commission for Justice and Peace of the Vietnamese bishops.
They say the new monuments will cost from hundreds of billions of dong to thousands of billions of dong each, and will be funded by the tax payer.
The costly projects “not only stand in total contrast to the conditions of extreme poverty of people but create lucrative chances for greedy officials to embezzle public funds. This is an unforgivable crime,” said the petition.
Ho Chi Minh is revered as something of an austere holy man by the Communist Party and people are encouraged to study and follow his moral leadership.
The Ho cult has been stepped up in recent years with more and more statues being approved across the country.
The latest project, approved by the prime minister Nguyen Tan Dung, will see the construction of elaborate monuments in 14 provinces over the next 15 years.
Controversy flared earlier this month when officials in the impoverished northwestern province of Son La approved a huge project to build a Ho Chi Minh statue and complex, including a square and a lake.
Some estimates said the budget for the scheme was an eye watering 1,400 billion dong ($US64 million). Local
officials later countered that the scheme was part of a much broader development project but the details they gave were sketchy.
The remote mountainous province with a large ethnic minority population is one of Vietnam’s poorest with tens of thousands of households living below the official poverty line.
The petition accused the government of using the Ho cult to intensify its rule over the country while ignoring other serious challenges.
They point to the growing threat from China in the South China Sea, Vietnam’s political and economic dependence on its northern neighbour and a public debt that soared to US$110 billion by the end of last year.
The petition says the national budget is limited and the government is putting too high a tax burden on the people.
It says the government should focus on essential infrastructure, including roads, bridges, clinics and schools rather than on lavish monuments in remote parts of the country.
A farmer in his early 30s from Tay Son district in the cent
ral province of Binh Dinh, where one of the statues is planned, told Vietnam Right Now that many youths in his area were dropping out of school early to look for jobs in the city.
“The government should build public facilities such as health care centres and schools to improve people’s lives rather than waste much money building Uncle Ho statues. People no longer believe in the Communist Party and meaningless cement statues,” he said.
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, 134 Ho Chi Minh statues have been built throughout the country and many others are planned.