LEADERS, LEGISLATURE, ELECTIONS, BUREAUCRACY AND CORRUPTION IN LAOS

HEAD OF THE GOVERNMENT IN LAOS

The most powerful position is the head of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. Power is concentrated in the party. In most cases the leader of the party is the President. The President is the leader of the country and also head of the armed forced. He is technically chosen by the National Assembly but in truth is the most powerful member of the Politburo, which is selected through a mysterious process by Laos’s communist party . He has the power to rule by decree. Laos also has a Prime Minister. He is appointed by the President and is in charge of the running the government administration along with the Deputy Prime Ministers and Ministers of Chairman of Committees (the equivalent of Ministries). Cabinet ministers are appointed by president and approved by National Assembly.

Executive branch: chief of state: President Lt. Gen. Choummali Saignason (since 8 June 2006); Vice President Bounn-Gnang Volachit (since 8 June 2006). Head of government: Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong (since 24 December 2010); First Deputy Prime Minister Maj. Gen. Asang Laoli (since May 2002), Deputy Prime Ministers Maj. Gen. Douangchai Phichit (since 8 June 2006), Somsavat Lengsavat (since 26 February 1998), and Thongloun Sisoulit (since 27 March 2001). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The president of the country is elected by a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly for a term of five years. One surprising constitutional provision transforms the presidency from a ceremonial position into an important political power. The president appoints and can dismiss the prime minister and members of the government, with the approval of the National Assembly-- parliamentary responsibility that has not yet occurred in the short life of the current constitutional regime. He also presides over meetings of the government, "when necessary," and appoints and dismisses provincial governors and mayors of municipalities as well as generals of the armed forces, upon the recommendation of the prime minister. In addition, the president receives and appoints ambassadors and declares states of emergency or war. [Source: Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The powers accorded to the president grew perceptively during the drafting process of the constitution, but the sudden death of Kaysone, who had moved from prime minister to state president after the promulgation of the constitution, temporarily introduced doubts regarding the relative power potential of the two offices. Nonetheless, the president of state heads the armed forces and has the right and duty to promulgate laws and issue decrees and state acts. *

The primary organization for administration is the government, which consists of the prime minister--its head--and deputy prime ministers, ministers, and chairs of ministry-equivalent state committees. The prime minister, appointed by the president with the approval of the National Assembly, serves a five-year term. Duties of this office include the guidance and supervision of the work of government ministries and committees, as well as of the governors of provinces and mayors of municipalities. The prime minister appoints all the deputies at these levels of government, as well as the local district chiefs. *

Politburo and Central Committee

Laos is ruled by 11-member Politburo (Political Bureau), which operates in secret and is accountable to no one and does not make public any of its policy decisions. The members of the Laos Politburo are widely regarded as corrupt, inept and unable to make decisions. They are technically supposed to be chosen by the Central Committee but in reality are selected through a process known only to them directed primarily from the top.

Other important bodies include the 61-member Central Executive Committee (or Central Committee) and the Council of Ministers (comprised of more than a dozen ministry heads) of the Laotian People’s Revolutionary Party. Since the elimination of the Secretariat in 1991, the Central Committee is the second highest body in the party hierarchy after the Politburo and made up of party elite who fill key political positions throughout the country. The Central Committee is charged with leading the party between congresses. In addition to members of the Politburo and former members of the Secretariat, the committee includes key government ministers, leading generals of the army, secretaries of provincial party committees, and chairpersons of mass organizations. *

Since 1972 the genuine center of political power, as in other communist parties, has resided in the Politburo. Membership of the Politburo, and formerly that of the Secretariat, is drawn from the Central Committee. A small group of men--seven in 1972 and eleven by 1993--have provided the critical leadership of the communist movement in Laos. A signal attribute of this group has been its remarkable cohesion and continuity. The Politburo has been dominated for more than fifteen years communist rule by the same stalwart band of revolutionary veterans. The twenty-five Laotian former members of the ICP who founded the LPP in 1955, and from whom the Politburo was drawn, remained in almost identical rank until illness and age began to take their toll in the 1980s. Kaysone was named secretary general of the then secret LPP upon its establishment, a post he retained until his death in 1992. Nouhak retained his number-two position on the Politburo into 1993. It was not until the Fifth Party Congress that Souphanouvong, Phoumi Vongvichit, and Sisomphone Lovansai (ranking third, fourth, and seventh, respectively) were retired with honorific titles as counselors to the Central Committee. Prime Minister Khamtai Siphandon was promoted to succeed Kaysone as chief of the party, and Phoun Sipaseut advanced a notch in rank. In 1991 the Politburo numbered ten, including only two new members. [Source: Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Although the exact manner of Politburo decision making has never been revealed, a collegiality, based on long years of common experience, appears to have developed. In addition to their powerful position on the Politburo, members exercise additional political power--perhaps even more than in most other communist systems--through important posts within the governmental structure. In fact, for many years, five Politburo members also held seats on the Secretariat. *

Many top members and leaders in the Laotian People’s Revolutionary Party are in their 70s and 80s. As of 2000, the youngest member of the eight-member Politburo was 69. Vietnam’s influence in Laos remains strong primary based on the ties of these old timers and their mentors in Vietnam.

National Assembly: the Legislature of Laos

Legislative branch: unicameral National Assembly (132 seats; members elected by popular vote from a list of candidates selected by the Lao People's Revolutionary Party to serve five-year terms). elections: last held on 30 April 2011 (next to be held in 2016)election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - LPRP 128, independents 4. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The National Assembly was formerly named the Supreme People’s Assembly. It had 107 members in the mid 2000s. Before 2002 it had 99 members. All but maybe one or two deputies are members of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. The Lao assembly debates very little and serves more as a rubber stamp for decisions made by the powerful 11-member politburo, propped up by a highly cohesive 61-member central committee, modelled largely on neighbouring Vietnam, its biggest political ally, which in turn is modeled on the assembly in the former Soviet Union. Laos’s National Assembly has its own Standing Committee, which is lead by a Chairman and Vice-Chairman. It convenes in ordinary sessions twice a year. Its main purpose is to rubber stamp policy made by the politburo.

According to Martin Stuart Fox, a professor of history at the University of Queensland: “The National Assembly is just a rubber stamp and will continue to be one as long as Laos is a single-party authoritarian state", "Everything it decides on has already been determined by the party hierarchy ... What is debated is again determined by the party.’’ Although basically a rubber-stamp institution, the National Assembly representatives have become more critical on social and economic issues.” Although basically a rubber-stamp institution, the National Assembly representatives have become more critical on social and economic issues.

According to the Voice of America: “On paper it is a body of lawmakers chosen by and for the people. But analysts say in reality, the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, a communist party, selects the candidates, who serve at its convenience. Stuart-Fox says the role of the National Assembly is to lend the party a pretense of democratic legitimacy. He says its duties are supposed to include passing laws and choosing government leaders. [Source: Voice of America, April 28, 2011]

Official Duties of the National Assembly of Laos

The national assembly passes votes on most laws and is be tasked with choosing a president and approving his choice of prime minister.

The National Assembly, the country's supreme legislative body, is to be elected every five years. Significantly, this designation was used in RLG and French colonial times, before the introduction of the title "Supreme People's Assembly" in late 1975. It is located in a new building, far larger than the previous structure built in colonial times, and contains an auditorium seating 800 persons. [Source: Library of Congress, 1994 *]

The National Assembly makes decisions on fundamental issues and oversees administrative and judicial organs. Its most significant powers include electing and removing the president of state, the president of the Supreme People's Court, and the prosecutor general, "on the recommendation of the National Assembly Standing Committee." Its prestige has been further enhanced by the constitutional mandate to "make decisions on the fundamental issues of the country" and to "elect or remove the President of state and the Vice President of state", by a two-thirds vote, and to approve the removal of members of the government on the recommendation of the president of state. Its powers encompass amending the constitution, determining taxes, approving the state budget, endorsing or abrogating laws, and electing or removing the two top judicial figures in the system. Members of the National Assembly have the "right to interpellate the members of the government." The National Assembly also ratifies treaties and decides questions of war and peace. These powers may prove to be limited, however, by a provision in the constitution that the National Assembly will generally meet in ordinary session only twice a year. The Standing Committee meeting in the interim may convene an extraordinary session if it deems necessary. *

The constitution does not specify the number of members in the National Assembly, whose candidates are screened by the LPRP. The 1989 election placed seventy-nine members in this body, representing districts of between 40,000 and 50,000 persons each. The election campaign lasted two months, and candidates appeared before voters at night in local schools or pagodas. Voting consisted of crossing out unfavored candidates, and every ballot contained at least two candidates. The number of party members elected by this process was officially placed at sixty-five. *

Between sessions, the Standing Committee of the National Assembly, consisting of the president and the vice president elected by the National Assembly and an unspecified number of other members, prepares for future sessions and "supervise[s] and oversee[s] the activities of the administrative and judicial organizations." It is empowered to appoint or remove the vice president of the Supreme People's Court and judges at all levels of the lower courts. Its supervisory role can be reinforced by National Assembly committees established to consider draft laws and decrees and to help in the supervision and administration of the courts. The special National Assembly Law passed March 25, 1993, specifies five substantive areas for National Assembly committees: secretarial; law; economic planning and finances; cultural, social, and nationalities; and foreign affairs. The membership of the committees includes not only National Assembly members but also chiefs and deputy chiefs, who "guide the work," and technical cadres. *

Party Congress of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party

In March 2011, Amelie Bottolier-Depois of AFP wrote: “The ruling communist party of Laos opened its five-yearly congress, an event analysts say will see a power struggle between rival pro-Vietnam and China camps. Red banners are on display throughout the capital Vientiane, where 576 delegates of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) are gathered until March 21 to choose members of the ruling Politburo, according to state media. Representing more than 191,700 party members, delegates are to decide who will take the key post of general secretary, currently occupied by 75-year-old Choummaly Sayasone, who is expected to stay in the job. [Source: Amelie Bottolier-Depois, AFP, March 17, 2011]

The congress — described by the Vientiane Times as "the most significant event in the country's political life" — is the traditional venue for the redistribution of powers. But in a surprise move in December, Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh quit to be replaced by National Assembly president Thongsing Thammavon. Analysts say his appointment points to a realignment of power in favour of the party's pro-Vietnamese factions and those wary of major Chinese investments pouring into the country. "Some people saw in this a victory for the pro-Vietnamese over pro-Chinese members," said one foreign observer, who declined to be named.

The reshuffle allowed the party — which has ruled since 1975 — to maintain strong ties with Vietnam's communists, according to Martin Stuart-Fox, a Laos expert at Australia's University of Queensland. "Political ties between Laos and Vietnam have always been strong, and Thongsing as a good Party man has been closer to Vietnam than Bouasone was," he said.

According to Laos government: On March 17, 2011, the 9th National Congress of the Lao People's Revolutionary Party (LPRP) convened at the Meeting room of the Party Central Committee Office, kilometer 6 in Vientiane with the participation of 576 delegates representing more than 191,700 party members nationwide. The congress took place under the theme:"Enhancing cohesive solidarity of the Lao nation and unity within the Party, upholding the leadership role and capacity of the Party, Devising breakthrough approach for the implementation of the renovation policy, Creating solid basis for lifting our nation from underdevelopment by 2020, and Advancing further towards Socialism destination". [Source: The National Assembly of the Lao PDR, 2011 ><]

Former Party General Secretary Khamtay Siphandone and the state and government leaders as well as members of the diplomatic corps and some international organizations also attended the opening session of the congress. In his opening speech, Politburo member and Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong expressed limitless gratitude and respectful commemoration to late beloved President Kaysone Phomvihane who found the Lao People's Army, Lao People's Revolutionary Party, a new regime and starting the principle based renovation policy in the Lao PDR. ><

Comrade Thongsing Thammavong noted that the Congress took place at an important time, when the country received a great number of achievements in the cause of national defence and construction made in the past 35 years. Party General Secretary Choummaly Sayasone presented the VIII Party Central Committee's report at the opening session, while Mr. Somsavat Lengsavad, Politburo member and head of the Secretariat for the IX Party Congress presented the Seventh five year socio-economic development plan ( 2011-2015). ><

The five day congress will consider and approve the political report of the VIII Party Central Committee to the IX Party Congress, the Seventh five year socio-economic development plan ( 2011-2015), and the amended rule of the Party. The Party Congress will make comments to the leadership review report of the VIII Party Central Committee and then there will be the election of the IX Party Central Committee. The representatives from line central and local Party Committees as well as role -model sectors will present their report, make inputs to different documents of the Party Congress. ><

AFP reported: “The gathering choose members of the ruling Politburo as well as decided who will lead the Lao People's Revolutionary Party in the post of general secretary, Khenthong Nuanthasing told AFP. Choummaly Sayasone currently holds the joint position of party chief and president, making him the most powerful figure in the one-party state. He is eligible for another term. The Congress follows the surprise resignation in December of Prime Minister Bouasone Bouphavanh, who was replaced by Thongsing Thammavong, 66-year-old president of the communist-dominated National Assembly. [Source: AFP, February 21, 2011 \-\]

“At the party's last meeting in 2006, almost 500 delegates gathered to represent about 150,000 party members. They selected an 11-member Politburo and 55 members of the Central Committee, another key leadership body. Legislators for the communist-dominated National Assembly are to be elected by the public on April 30, after which a new government will be formed.” \-\

Elections in Laos

Elections in Laos for the National Assembly (NA) are held every five years. The last one was held on April 30, 2011. Seats by party : Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP): 128, independents 4. The next is to be held in 2016. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The election in 2002, was one year earlier than had originally been planned. In the election in February 2002, there were some new better-educated faces, including more women, few significant resulted from the election.

Suffrage: 18 years of age; universal. According to the constitution those over 18 can vote and those over 21 can run for office.

The president and vice president are elected by National Assembly for five-year terms. The prime minister nominated by the president and elected by the National Assembly for five-year term. Recent National Assembly election results: Choummali Saignason elected president; Boun -Gnang Volachit elected vice president. The percent of National Assembly vote for these elections is not available. [Source: CIA World Factbook]

The law provides for a representative national assembly, elected every five years in open, multiple-candidate, fairly tabulated elections, with voting by secret ballot and universal adult suffrage. However, the constitution legitimizes only the LPRP; all other political parties are outlawed. Election committees, appointed by the NA, must approve all candidates for local and national elections. Candidates do not need to be LPRP members, but in practice almost all were. The most recent NA election, held in 2006, was conducted under this system. [Source: 2010 Human Rights Report: Laos, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. State Department, April 8, 2011 ^^]

The NA chooses members of the Standing Committee, generally based on the previous Standing Committee's recommendations. Upon such recommendations, the NA elects or removes the president and vice president. The Standing Committee has the mandate to supervise all administrative and judicial organizations and the sole power to recommend presidential decrees. It also appoints the National Election Committee, which has powers over elections, including approval of candidates. Activities of the Standing Committee were not fully transparent. The NA, upon the president's recommendation, formally elects the prime minister and other government ministers.^^

Laotian Parliamentary Election in 2011

In late April 2011, Laos held elections for its national assembly today. Reuters reported: The five-yearly poll offered citizens a rare say in the running of one of Asia’s most secretive and tightly controlled countries but struggled to generate much excitement among Laos’s people, most of whom see the election as a formality, with candidates hand-picked and vetted by the only legal political party in what is one of the world’s last remaining socialist states. But there are some subtle changes this time that the ruling Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) says reflects the country’s diversity and offers greater representation to ethnic groups, women and rural communities, which constitute 70 per cent of the population. [Source: Reuters, April 30, 2011 <>]

“Because of its poor infrastructure, Laos will transport ballot boxes by air from five far-flung provinces inaccessible by road to speed up the vote count. An estimated 2.5 million eligible voters have a chance to elect 132 representatives from among the 190 candidates vying to become assembly members and “approve the fundamental issues of the nation”, according to state media. “ <>

Lao Movement for Human Rights reported: “The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (LPDR) announced the results of the legislative elections of April 30, 2011, by underlining the success and “the joyful atmosphere’’ of these elections, proclaiming ’the democratic rights of the Lao multi-ethnic people’’, ’’ in exercising their political rights’’, , while the international press qualified these elections as `’ pure rubber stamp’’ ’, ’’a recording room ’’ in a country where the opposition is not tolerated and peaceful demonstrations in favour of human rights each time severely repressed. The official press stated that 99.6 percent of the population participated at these mandatory votes (3.23 million out of 3.24 million registered voters). [Source: Mouvement Lao pour les Droits de l’Homme (MLDH),Lao Movement for Human Rights, May 13, 2011 ~~]

As for the seats distribution, 4 out of 132 are not representatives of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP). Women have not increased in number (25 percent). Among 38.6 percent issued from the ethnic minorities (51), 9 percent are Khmu (12) and only 5.3 are Hmong (7). Faced with this pretence of an election, the only goal of which was to enable the totalitarian regime to boast about its legitimacy to the donors and the international community, the Lao Movement for Human Rights solemnly demands that the Lao authorities give the power back to the people, so that it can choose its leaders freely, in accordance with a multiparty system. ~~

Professor Martin Stuart-Fox, a specialist on Laos at the University of Queensland in Australia, told the Voice of American the communist party controls all elections in Laos. "Overwhelmingly, the people who stand for the National Assembly elections are members of the party," he says. "A few independents are allowed to stand, but they have been checked out by the party." [Source: Voice of America, April 28, 2011 |=|]

"But the names and who will serve have already been determined by the party. So, all the assembly does is simply to rubber stamp the decisions that the party has already made." Nonetheless, Stuart-Fox says the party has allowed a slight improvement in the body’s internal discussions. He says while in the past there was no real debate on issues, the National Assembly now, on occasion, addresses problems such as corruption, a growing concern. "And, this has been debated within the assembly without naming names, and, of course, nothing comes out of it in terms of prosecutions," he says. "But, it does signal the government's disquiet over the level of corruption." |=|

Women and Minorities in the Laos Government

There were 29 women in the 115-seat NA, including two on the nine-member Standing Committee, and three women were members of the 13-member Supreme Court. The 55-seat LPRP Central Committee included four women, one of whom was also a member of the 11-member Politburo and president of the National Assembly. Of 12 ministers in the Prime Minister's Office, two were women. The minister of labor and social welfare also was a woman. [Source: 2010 Human Rights Report: Laos, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. State Department, April 8, 2011 ^^]

While 80 percent of the population lived in rural areas and the village chief and village council handled most everyday matters, fewer than 1 percent of the village chiefs were women. The LWU--the LPRP mass organization focused on women's issues with a presence in every village and at every government level--is the only organization that has representation in every village; however, only one member of the LWU represented women in each village council.^^

There were seven members of ethnic minorities in the LPRP Central Committee, including two in the Politburo. The NA included 23 members of ethnic minorities, while three of the 28 cabinet ministers were members of ethnic minority groups. The new president of the National Assembly was also a member of an ethnic minority. One SPC justice was a member of an ethnic minority.^^

Welfare, Taxes and Local Government in Laos

Laos is made up of provinces, municipalities, districts, and villages. Local government is set up on the district and village level. Provincial governors and mayors of municipalities are appointed by the President. Deputy provincial governors, deputy mayors and district chiefs are appointed by the Prime Minister. Lack of funds severely limits government services

Local divisions: 16 provinces and one municipality (Vientiane). Capital: Vientiane (Viangchan). Administrative divisions: 16 provinces (khoueng, singular and plural) and 1 capital city* (nakhon luang, singular and plural); Attapu, Bokeo, Bolikhamxai, Champasak, Houaphan, Khammouan, Louangnamtha, Louangphabang, Oudomxai, Phongsali, Salavan, Savannakhet, Viangchan (Vientiane)*, Viangchan, Xaignabouli, Xekong, Xiangkhouang. Independence: 19 July 1949 (from France). [Source: CIA World Factbook ++]

Provinces are subdivied into districts (muang ), subdistricts (taseng ) and villages (baan ). Administration at the village level is conducted by local elected village chiefs and village councils. Munag officials appointed by the national or provincial government are responsible for important administrative duties such as tax collection, school supervision and agriculture projects.

The constitution gives no clear guidance on provincial and district responsibilities except to specify that the leaders at each echelon must ensure the implementation of the constitution and the law and must carry out decisions taken by a higher level. In spite of the party's inclination to centralize decision making, provinces and localities have enjoyed a surprising degree of autonomy in shaping social policy. This independence is partly due to limited resources and poor communications with Vientiane. But the central government has also encouraged direct contacts along the borders with China, Thailand, and Vietnam, and trading agreements with neighboring jurisdictions. [Source: Library of Congress, 1994 *]

Each of the sixteen provinces (khoueng) is directed by a party committee, chaired by a party secretary who is the dominant political figure in the province. At a lower level are 112 districts (muang), further divided into subdistricts (tasseng), each with their own party committees. Administratively, subdistricts have been abolished in principle since around 1993, but implementation has been uneven across provinces. It is unknown whether subdistrictlevel party committees have also been abolished. At the base of the country's administrative structure are more than 11,000 villages (ban), only some of which have party branches. *

A) Taxes and other revenues: 22.3 percent of GDP (2012 est.); country comparison to the world: 138. B) Budget: revenues: $2.066 billion; expenditures: $2.258 billion (2012 est.). Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-): -2.1 percent of GDP (2012 est.), country comparison to the world: 83. Laos initiated a VAT tax system in 2010. ++

The government does not maintain a social welfare system, but the National Committee for Social Welfare and War Veterans operates a number of "orphan's schools" in some province centers and administers retirement pay to government officials. This retirement pay, however, is as insignificant as their salaries were before retirement. Orphans, handicapped persons, and elderly persons living in rural villages are usually supported and cared for by their relatives, although the level of support depends on the economic resources of the caretakers. Lowland Lao are traditionally tolerant of mentally handicapped members of their community, and these persons, although not economically productive, are allowed to live with their families and move around the village at will. This family approach to social welfare operates in the towns as well, often on a neighborhood basis but particularly relying on extended kinship networks. As a consequence, urban beggars were unknown between 1975 and about 1987, although a small number appeared in Vientiane after that date, perhaps reflecting the increase in urban economic differentiation as much as any increase in acute poverty. [Source: Library of Congress]

Corporate tax rate: 22 percent, compared to 17 percent in Singapore and 35.6 percent in Japan. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun]

Bureaucracy in Laos

The bureaucracy is under the control of the Council of Ministers (comprised of more than a dozen ministries). Technically it implements the Constitution, laws and resolutions adopted by the National Assembly and decrees and acts of the President. Committees are the equivalent of Ministries. In 1990s, bureaucrats earned $20 to $30 a month. Many grew their own rice and vegetables.

The historical evolution of Laos created identifiable layers of bureaucratic behavior. Traditional royal customs and Buddhist practices set the foundation. Next, there was an overlay of French influence, the product of colonial rule from 1890 to 1954. During this period, several generations of Laotian bureaucrats were trained and often placed in subordinate rank to French-imported Vietnamese civil servants. The administration used French as the official language and followed French colonial administrative practices. From 1954 to 1975, there was an increase in United States influence, and the United States provided training and educational opportunities for future bureaucrats as well as employment in United States agencies. Because of its brevity, however, the United States impact was far less pervasive than the French. [Source: Library of Congress, 1994 *]

When the communists seized power in 1975, a new layer of bureaucrats--strongly influenced by North Vietnam and the Soviet Union and its allies--was added. Many of the French-trained and United States-influenced bureaucrats fled across the Mekong River. Of those who stayed, perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 were sent to seminar camps or reeducation centers. The few Westerntrained bureaucrats who remained possessed French- or Englishlanguage skills and the technical competence needed to deal effectively with the Western foreign aid donors so critical to the economy. The Western-trained bureaucrats were essential because not many of the new revolutionary cadres who moved into key positions of bureaucratic authority had much formal education, knowledge of a foreign language, or competence in the technical and managerial skills necessary to run a national economy. The few cadres in each ministry who were capable of managing the economy were often unavailable because there were so many demands for their services: for example, meeting with visiting foreign delegations, traveling to international meetings, and attending political training sessions. *

Since its inception, the LPDR bureaucracy has been lethargic and discouraged individual initiative. It has been dangerous to take unorthodox positions. Some officials have been arrested on suspicion of corruption or ideological deviation: for example, "pro-Chinese" sentiment. Initiative has been further constrained by the lack of legal safeguards, formal trial procedures, and an organized system of appeal. The beginnings of a penal code, which the SPA endorsed in 1989, and the promulgation of a constitution in 1991, however, may solidify the system of justice and provide a clear definition as to what constitutes a crime against socialist morality, the party, or the state. *

The lethargy of the bureaucracy is understandable within the cultural context of Laos. As a peasant society at the lower end of the modernization scale, the LPDR has adopted few of the work routines associated with modern administration. Foreign aid administrators frequently point out that Laotian administrators have difficulty creating patterns or precedents, or learning from experience. Laotians are known for their light-hearted, easy-going manner. This bo pinh nyang (never mind--don't worry about it) attitude is reflected in the languid pace of administration. Official corruption has also been acknowledged as problematic. *

Kaysone acknowledged the bureaucracy's low level of competence. In his report to the Fourth Party Congress in 1986, he chided those in authority who gave "preference only to (their friends) or those from the same locality or race; paying attention to only their birth origin, habits and one particular sphere of education." Patronage is but one area that has come under scrutiny and resulted in admonishments to strengthen inspection and control. Kaysone further railed against "dogmatism, privatism, racial narrowmindedness , regionalism and localism."

Corruption in Laos

The government of Laos is widely regarded as very corrupt but determining how corrupt is difficult because it is so secretive. There is probably less corruption than their could be based on the fact that few people is Laos are rich and there are not many foreign companies operating there. But on the other hand, the government brings in little money from income taxes or other revenues and bureaucrats and officials get paid so little they all must rely to some degree on corruption to bring in money.

Many high level leaders and officials are said to be more interested in enriching themselves than in helping their poverty stricken country. Ordinary Laotians generally believe that people who have money are somehow connected with the government and those who don’t have money as having no connections with the government.

Wages of all government officials were extremely low; and many officials, such as police, had broad powers that they could easily abuse. Many police officers used their authority to extract bribes from citizens. [Source: 2010 Human Rights Report: Laos, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. State Department, April 8, 2011 ^^]

Some civil servants and high level government officials live in surprisingly nice villas despite $20 to $30 a week salaries. It can be argued that the low salaries are what drives them to become corrupt in the first place. But corruption seems to have gotten a bit out of control with as much as 40 percent of foreign aid going directly to the government while only 20 percent of the government budget goes education and health and other social welfare programs.. This particularly hypocritical as the Communists came to power with the promise of stamping out corruption from the previous regime.

Low level corruption includes bureaucrats accepting “tips” to give a license, speed up paperwork and turning their back on smuggling. Many foreign operations in Laos employ a “fixer” that helps them navigate through the bureaucracy and pay bribes where they are expected. High-level corruption may include things like taking kick backs from logging companies and contractors involved in road and the dam projects.

According to Lonely Planet: “Corruption remains a major problem. Far too much of the country’s limited resources finds its way into the pockets of a small political-economic elite, who pay little or no taxes. Smuggling of timber and wildlife threatens declared ‘bio-diversity areas’ (national parks where some people still live). Laws are flouted because the legal system is not independent, but under the control of the Party. [Source: Lonely Planet]

Combating Corruption in Laos

The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively and officials often engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. Corrupt officials reportedly were seldom punished. Police were trained at the National Police Academy, but the extent to which the academy's curriculum covered corruption was unknown. [Source: 2010 Human Rights Report: Laos, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, U.S. State Department, April 8, 2011 ^^]

In theory the government's National Audit Committee has responsibility for uncovering corruption in all government ministries, including the MoPS, but in practice its investigative activities were minimal. Authorities arrested and administratively punished lower-level officials on occasion for corruption. There were no reports of criminal cases being brought to trial. The government-controlled press rarely reported cases of official corruption.^^

Central and provincial inspection organizations responsible for enforcing laws against corruption lacked defined roles and sufficient powers as well as adequate funding, equipment, and legal support from the government.^^

Prior to taking their designated positions, senior officials were required by party policy to disclose their personal assets to the LPRP's Party Inspection Committee. The committee inspects the officials' assets before and after the officials have been in their positions. However, the LPRP used its control of government authorities and media to block public censure of corrupt officials who were party members.^^

There are no laws providing for public access to government information, and in general the government closely guarded the release of any information pertaining to its internal activities, deeming such secrecy necessary for "national security."^^

Former Laotian prime minister Bouasone Bouphavanh vowed to tackle graft but resigned, analysts said, because he had failed to build a large enough powerbase in his communist party.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Laos-Guide-999.com, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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