Laos adopts new measure to combat corruption: party expulsion

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    The Lao government has stepped up its crackdown on corruption by expelling state employees in Bokeo province from the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, the country’s sole political party.

    A state inspector’s office review of investment projects this year in the northern province found that some projects were paid for by money embezzled from the state fund. One project uncovered by the review involved 17 employees and nearly 2 trillion kip (U.S. $176 million) in government money.

    Eight of the employees were disciplined, demoted and prohibited from working for the party. The other nine were expelled from the party, a Bokeo official said.

    “Projects valued at less than 20 billion kip [U.S. $1.8 million] are approved by the National Assembly, and they are to promote or train village authorities or villagers in the target areas of agriculture and animal raising,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.

    The effort to weed out corruption in Bokeo, which borders Myanmar and Thailand, is part of a larger campaign to crack down on graft in Laos.

    Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh pledged to stamp out corruption, bribery, fraud and other malfeasance by state officials in a speech to the Lao National Assembly in August. He asked lawmakers and members of the public to monitor officials’ performance and to report wrongdoings.

    The country’s National Assembly is largely a rubber-stamp parliament that approves the party’s decisions. The party has a constitutionally guaranteed monopoly on state power and maintains centralized control over the economy and military.

    Corruption is believed to exist at every level of government in Laos. It is difficult to uproot because it has become part of the country’s culture. In the past, employees who have taken bribes or siphoned off money from government projects have been demoted or transferred to other positions, not kicked out of the party.

    The Bokeo official said those who control the funds at the provincial level pocket about 10-20% of the money they receive from the Finance Ministry. They file false reports showing the money went to other projects in an effort to account for the discrepancies,

    Villagers who lose out when officials steal money from program funds want authorities to crackdown on corrupt government workers. One villager in Bokeo province told RFA that he would like bad actors to serve jail time, whereas typically they receive little more than a slap on the wrist.

    Another villager agreed that stronger disciplinary measures must be taken.

    “For the problem to be resolved, corruption must come down, but it isn’t,” he told RFA.

    A third villager agreed that the government should be stricter in punishing state employees found to be corrupt.

    “If the government intends to crack down on corruption as it said it would, then it’s good thing, but as we see now there are a lot of state employees who take bribes from concessions under the table,” said the man, who declined to be named for safety reasons.

    In September, the Finance Ministry disciplined two state employees from the Tax Department in Hua Phanh province for corruption. The workers — the head of the department and the deputy — were demoted but did not serve any jail time.

    In 2020, the Office of the Inspector General and a central government anti-corruption unit investigated 650 state projects throughout Laos and found that many did not comply with government rules and regulation, resulting in nearly 1.6 trillion kip (U.S. $141 million) in lost revenue. The investigators determined that two dozen people were involved in corruption, 16 of whom were state employees.

    Berlin-based Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Laos 134 of 180 countries it evaluated in fighting corruption.

    Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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