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Do public servants need helipads?

Update: August, 27/2014 - 09:33
The administration centre in southern province of Binh Duong . — Photo dantri.com.vn

by Hai Van

When a US$700 million administration centre in southern province of Binh Duong opened in February, it was hailed as the most expensive workplace for public servants in Viet Nam. With helipads and a two-story car park that can accommodate several thousand cars, plus many other first-class facilities, the 23-floor government building raised eyebrows in a country where 10 million people still live under the poverty line - and hospital crowding and the shortage of schools are chronic.

The monumental and costly building is the most luxurious of its kind in the nation - and is certainly not the last. Six months down the track, plans for another administration building in HCM City are in the making. On August 19, city authorities invited architects to present their design plans.

The designated area is on the existing premises of HCM City People's Committee in District 1. Local realtors often dub it "golden land" for its sky-high prices per metre. While much smaller than the Binh Duong building, the HCM City centre won't be a southern Cinderella.

Estimated cost of the project has not even been hinted at, but the city leaders have given indications that it will be far from cheap. Some of the public "puff" is quite revealing. For instance, they are saying that the building must have the finest quality architecture, unique characteristics, state-of-the-art construction standards and, of course, a roof-top helipad!

Why helipads are becoming must-have additions to government buildings is a bit of a mystery. According to the latest revised draft ruling on technical standards for housing and public high-rise buildings, tower blocks of above 100m height can be equipped with a helipad for emergencies. But the HCM City admin centre is only 30 metres high!

Is the relentless traffic gridlock the reason city leaders travel by helicopter or are they so conscientious that they don't want to be late for work? Is the extra efficiency worth the US1 million to $3 million for a helipad and $5 million for a "chopper" ?

Travelling by private helicopter is a luxury- at least here in Viet Nam. It's not surprising that the number of high-rise buildings with their own helipad can be counted on less than 10 fingers. Most to date are on huge commercial centres owned by tycoons rolling in cash.

Even Viet Nam's biggest and most packed hospitals, where helipads and helicopters could be a great asset for emergency cases, have no helipads. Bach Mai, the biggest public hospital in Ha Noi, is likely to be the first to have an air ambulance service next year when renovation work is completed.

Bach Mai is not the first hospital to dream of such a life-saving service, but they all have their fantasies tempered when the costs are calculated. Helipads can also provide leaders of countries at war or under threat of terrorism a safer option.

But even in war-torn countries, transport by helicopter is of questionable value. In 2012, Pakistan lashed out at its Prime Minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, for planning to have his home furnished with a helipad simply because the poverty of millions of his people and his nation's financial difficulties were also an issue.

In Viet Nam the issues also involve poverty, overloaded hospitals and a lack of decent bridges for schoolchildren to cross swollen rivers in the flood season. A couple of weeks ago, a 52 year-old woman from the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak's Krong Bong district, fell 10 metres while swinging across the Krong Ana River on a cable tied to two wooden poles on either side of the river. She escaped death but was severely injured.

Hundreds of similar cables are used in mountainous areas because raging floods have swept away bridges. Thousands of people risk their lives every day just to earn a living or go to school. The situation has been unchanged for years.

Many issues, including public debt and the high rate of companies going broke are in need of more attention from our leaders. They should think twice before spending money taken from hard working taxpayers.

And this is why they should avoid letting people think that helipads and helicopters need to be placed at the top of the list in terms of public benefit. — VNS

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