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Laos shuffles top Cabinet posts amid economic slowdown

The Lao government this week reorganized its ruling Cabinet, adding two new deputy prime ministers and replacing heads of the national bank and the Ministry of Industry and Commerce as an economic crisis grips the Southeast Asian country.

The move, approved on Monday by the Lao National Assembly, comes just a year into the new administration of Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh.

Laotians say it has become increasingly difficult to eke out a living in the one-party communist country, given the rising costs of gasoline, food and other daily necessities. Laos’ inflation rate stood at 12.8 percent in May — one of the highest in Southeast Asia.

Hundreds now line up each day outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vientiane to renew or apply for passports to search for jobs in neighboring Thailand. And a government plan to increase the country’s minimum wage from 1.1 million kip (U.S. $75) to 1.3 million kip (U.S. $88) per month may not be enough to keep them home.

The number of deputy prime ministers in the Lao government has now moved from three to five following the promotions of former Minister of Foreign Affairs Saleumxay Kommasith and former Minister of Public Security Vilay Lakhamfong.

Governor of the Bank of the Lao PDR Sonexay Sitphaxay has now been replaced by Deputy Minister of Finance Bonleua Sinxayvoravong, while President of the State Audit Organization Malaythong Kommasith has now replaced Khampheng Saysompheng as Minister of Industry and Commerce.

Speaking to RFA on Wednesday, several Lao residents said they welcomed the shuffle of top leadership jobs but voiced caution as to the chances for positive change in the near term.

Monday’s switch of Cabinet posts shows the government is now fully focused on the country’s economic and financial problems, said one faculty member at the Lao National University.

“This is a period of transition, and the government will make some changes to the economy. However, everything will probably stay the same for now,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to speak freely.

“Whoever takes these posts, it seems that things may stay the same,” agreed another Lao citizen, also declining to be named. “I will have to wait to see how decisive he or she will be in solving our problems.

“The government should recruit talented and educated people to put in these positions,” he added.

Another Lao citizen said the government should do more to encourage participation by the country’s young in managing the economy. “Our problems will not be solved just by people with a strong spirit of nationalism,” he said.

“There will be solutions only when we encourage our young people to also take responsibility. But if things continue as they are, I have no idea how all of this will turn out.

“There is nothing I can do myself,” he said.

Translated by Phouvong for RFA Lao. Written in English by Richard Finney.