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Anti-Graft Training in Vientiane is the Latest Effort to Counter Laos Corruption

Source: Radio Free Asia

The effort to fight widespread government corruption in Laos – for years a declared goal of the country’s top leaders – got a boost from the United Nations this week.

At a training conducted by the U.N.’s Office on Drugs and Crime, Vientiane municipal workers learned how to recognize money laundering, audit the finances of state enterprises and inspect government concession projects.

Berlin-based Transparency International’s 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Laos 126 of 180 countries it evaluated in fighting corruption.

“Cooperation included officials from the state inspector general’s office and others from related outside sectors,” an official from the Office of Inspector General told Radio Free Asia. “This time we did the training in Vientiane. Later, we’ll have one for government officials in Savannakhet province.”

The government has promised in the past to address corrupt practices that have put off potential foreign investors from pumping money into much-needed infrastructure and development.

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

One official who said he worked as an inspector in Vientiane for a decade told RFA last year that he and his colleagues review the finances of government offices and departments but not those of individual officials who are powerful members of the party and the government.

“Nobody would dare inspect them,” he said.

It could be very difficult to solve Laos’ corruption problem, even with stricter laws, a Laotian who asked to remain anonymous said to RFA this week. So far, no government officials have been sent to prison for corruption, he said.

“Laws are strict but enforcement is weak, and that’s not strong enough to solve the problem,” he said.

Over the last two or three years, some officials have been fired or moved to other positions – but that’s been the extent of the government crackdown, a former state employee told RFA. 

“There are many state employees who are corrupt,” he said. “Police, tax collectors, even employees of mineral companies. They do it in a group, with the involvement of high-ranking officials.”

A report last year from the country’s State Inspection Authority said the Lao government had lost US$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.

At the time, nearly 3,700 members of the communist Lao People’s Revolutionary Party had been disciplined, with 2,019 expelled and 154 people charged, the report said.

Another report from the Asian Development Bank found that almost 70 percent of businesses that applied for registrations, licenses and permits in Laos paid bribes to government officials to get approval.