Responding this week to appeals by Lao schoolteachers who have gone unpaid for months, Lao Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith ordered that teachers receive their salaries on time, threatening to punish officials found blocking or diverting their pay.
“From now on, no one is allowed to use funds budgeted for teachers’ salaries for other purposes,” Thongloun told a meeting of the Southeast Asian country’s National Assembly on Oct. 31.
“Teachers must be paid each month,” he said.
“Anyone found taking money budgeted for teachers’ pay, either by delaying it or by not paying it at all, will be punished,” Thongloun said.
“We will handle the problem of salary payments, and will make the payments each month,” finance minister Somdy Douangdy told the National Assembly in an earlier meeting on Oct. 26.
“In particular, we will make an effort to normalize salary payments in 2017, and will avoid these delays of two to three months.”
Teachers’ and lower-ranking government workers’ salaries are often paid late in Laos, especially in the country’s provinces, where local officials sometimes divert funds for use as loans made to private businesses, sources say.
‘Hard to live on this’
“Teachers in my district have not received pay for October,” a teacher in Luang Namtha province’s Sing district told RFA’s Lao Service on Nov. 3.
“Friends of mine who teach in Namtha district were paid only one million kip [U.S.$122.49] in September, which is not full pay, and they have received nothing at all for October,” she said.
“It is hard for us to live on this,” she added. “All we can do is borrow money at an interest rate of eight percent per month if our salaries come in late.”
About 510 teachers work in Sing district, with over 80,000 teachers working throughout Laos itself, according to statistics provided by the Ministry of Education and Sports.
“In principle, teachers must be paid on time, and this is the responsibility of the Ministry of Finance,” deputy minister of education and sports Kongsy Sengmany told RFA on Nov. 3.
“But officials in the education and sports sectors must give the Ministry a summary of salary payments, and these are sometimes late, which delays payment,” he said.
The pay of about 500 teachers working in Champassak province’s Soukhouma district was meanwhile resumed this month after salaries had not been paid since August, sources said.
‘So much corruption’
Speaking to RFA, one district education official said that he trusts the prime minister’s commitment to guaranteeing prompt payment of salaries, adding, “But many people are concerned about this issue and worry that it may happen again.”
“State workers are not paid on time because there is so much corruption in projects that go uninspected,” a finance official working in the prime minister’s office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“And sometimes accountants and finance officers delay payments in order to make some profit,” he said.