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Lao residents call for inspection of development projects to combat corruption

Residents of a province in northern Laos are calling on the government to take a closer look at local development projects following revelations that state employees had profited illegally from contracts financing the work, Lao sources say.

News that state employees and members of Laos’ ruling communist party were involved in corruption followed a 6-month review by Xayaburi province authorities of state development projects, local sources said.

The identities of officials accused of wrongdoing were not made public, however, angering local residents who told RFA they want the names revealed.

“There are a lot of corrupt state employees now,” one Xayaburi resident said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “And if the government discovers who they are it should make their names public so that the people can be informed.”

Central government authorities should do more now to protect the country’s development budget, another Xayaburi resident said. “All development projects, such as those for building infrastructure, should be thoroughly inspected,” the resident said, also declining to be named.

“And if these are found to be substandard and not following proper guidelines, the contracts should be revoked, and the projects should be canceled and not allowed to continue,” he said.

“The banks that allocate money for these projects will be upset if they find out that those projects are being investigated for crime,” a third provincial resident agreed.

Xayaburi’s six-month review of state development projects in the province show that of 47 projects each supported by investments of 10 billion kip ($656,167) or more, 37 failed to follow proper rules of concession, leading to state losses of over 45 billion kip, according to state media reports.

And of 233 projects invested at lower amounts, 79 were examined, with 17 showing losses to the state of 1.62 billion kip. More than 150 projects remain to be examined by the end of the year.

Leakage from project budgets is found mostly in the education and health-care sectors, an official from Xayaburi’s inspection unit told RFA, also speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“For example, when money is allocated to build toilets for schools, these are often not up to standard. The money has been used for something else, and the people who gave the money are not happy,” he said.

Also speaking to RFA, a second provincial official said that though laws are in place to punish corruption, “we send the bigger cases to central authorities to deal with if we find we can’t handle them at lower levels of authority.”

The Lao government has lost U.S. $767 million to corruption since 2016, with government development and investment projects such as road and bridge construction the leading source of the widespread graft, according to the country’s State Inspection Authority.

However, despite the enactment of an anticorruption law that criminalizes the abuse of power, public sector fraud, embezzlement and bribery, Laos’ judiciary is weak and inefficient, and officials are rarely prosecuted.

Berlin-based Transparency International 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Laos at 128 of 180 countries in the world. Laos received a score of 30 on a scale of 0-100, on which 0 means highly corrupt and 100 means very clean.

Translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA Lao. Written in English by Richard Finney.