Corruption in Laos, thought last year to be coming under control, grew worse in 2017 despite widely publicized government efforts to rein in profiteering officials and financial waste, sources in the country say.
In a report released on Feb. 21, 2018, corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Laos 135th out of 180 countries surveyed last year, dropping 12 places from 123rd place in a survey done the year before.
Corruption still pervades all sectors of life in the one-party communist state, from illegal logging to deliberate cost overruns on construction projects to the paying of bribes to obtain government services in day-to-day life, sources say.
“Corruption is everywhere, it has become a tradition,” a resident of the capital Vientiane told RFA’s Lao Service.
“For example, if you apply for any service, you have to attach a white envelope including ‘tea money’ of about [U.S. $7]. Otherwise, you will experience a long wait,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“Corruption has grown worse because people’s salaries are too low. No one can live on them,” a resident of one of the country’s southern provinces told RFA. “At the same time, people want to show off their luxury lifestyles, and especially their cars and houses.”
Police officers in the country’s northeastern Xieng Khouang province regularly demand bribes because their pay is so low, the source added.
Speaking to RFA late last year, a senior Lao government official said that the country’s government had lost U.S. $50 million to corruption in 2017, three times more than it had the year before.
“There is more corruption now because the government inspects and cracks down only on the ‘small fish,’ never on the ‘big fish,’” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
And though the governor of southeastern Laos’s Attapeu province was removed from his post in November because of involvement in illegal logging, and the governor of the country’s northeastern Xieng Khouang province was dismissed amid similar charges in February, corruption persists at official levels, sources say.
“Fraud occurs in development projects in which dishonest officials embezzle state funds and assets, including money for schools and health services across the country,” an inspector in Laos’s State Audit Authority told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Last year, over a trillion kip (about U.S. /44.8 million) was lost last year in development projects “through the violation of laws and financial disciplines by government bodies and the private sector,” according to a March 15, 2018, report by the online Vientiane Times.
Construction in Laos’s construction industry “is getting worse,” Bounthong Chitmany—deputy prime minister and head of the Lao National Anti-Corruption Agency—told the country’s parliament, the National Assembly, in a meeting in October.
“For example, the real cost of building a one-kilometer length of road is only [U.S.] $400,000, but the government ends up paying $1.7 million. Thus, $1.3 million is lost,” he said.
“The loss to corruption is massive,” Valy Vetsavong, a representative to the Lao National Assembly from the capital Vientiane, told a meeting in the parliament in November.
“Officials, businesses, and investors are all accomplices,” she said.
“These people are bad.”