Seven high-ranking current or formal officials in Laos’ Vientiane province have been warned and publicly identified for their involvement in several fraudulent development projects.
Dubbed “ghost projects,” the scheme involved pocketing government money for non-existent or overlapping developments, sources say.
“These malpractices happened a long time ago, as far back as 2017 in Vientiane province,” said a member of the Government Inspection Agency who requested anonymity in an interview with RFA’s Lao Service.
The inspector said that about a half million dollars were lost to fraud in these projects.
“These officials just had plans but never carried them out. They just took the money and did nothing,” the inspector said.
The government-controlled Lao Pattana newspaper reported on March 4 that the Personnel Central Party Committee issued a disciplinary warning to the seven officials.
The newspaper also identified each suspect, beginning with deputy governors Singkham Khongsavanh, Daohuang Nanthavong and former deputy governor Bounmy Phouthavong.
Three others were current or former directors of provincial departments—Phouvone Bounvilay from public works and transport, Dethxay Vilayfay from agriculture and forestry, and Soukan Vilaylath of planning and investment.
Also named was the former head of the province’s administration office, Vilath Sisouvong.
According to the announcement, these high-ranking Party members and state employees have been identified but not yet been dismissed, punished or formally charged with any crime.
RFA was unable to reach Vientiane Provincial Administration Office to confirm the current status of the officials, but many state employees have recently been caught in similar schemes and fired.
In one high-profile case on Sept. 6, the ministry of finance fired eight high-ranking officials including the director of the budget department and the general director of the ministry.
In that case, the finance minister did not specify what ghost projects the fired officials were involved in, but in 2014, an official of the ministry told RFA that these eight high-ranking officials were in a scheme to build a $10-million infrastructure project that included an access road to the new stadium in Oudomxay Province.
For that project, the funding was procured but the road was never built.
Transparency International, a Berlin-based global anti-corruption coalition, ranked Laos 132nd among 180 countries for 2018, with a score of 29 on a scale where 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.
The group said corruption remained endemic among most of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to which Laos belongs.
“Why is Asia Pacific making little to no progress in its anti-corruption efforts? One of the reasons is an overall weakening of democratic institutions and political rights,” Transparency International said in January.