Archive for ‘Lao PDR’

August 15, 2014

VN, Laos armies plan co-operation


VN, Laos armies plan co-operation

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Laos, army

Senior Lieutenant General Ngo Xuan Lich, head of the General Department of Politics under the Viet Nam People’s Army, held talks with Acting Director of the Lao People’s Army’s General Department of Politics Major General Vilay Lakhamphong in the central city of Da Nang yesterday.

He said that the two sides should work closely together to defeat any hostile schemes that aimed to undermine the friendship and solidarity between Viet Nam and Laos.

Lich also expressed hope that the Lao side would create favourable conditions for Viet Nam to search for and repatriate remains of Vietnamese volunteer soldiers who fell in Laos during wartime.

For his part, Vilay Lakhamphong expressed delight at the effective and comprehensive co-operation between the two sides, especially in Party and political work.

Vietnam offers assistance to Laos AIPA hosting

Vietnam is ready to share its experience in organising the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) to help Laos host the upcoming meeting successfully.

Vice Chairman of the National Assembly Committee for External Relations Nguyen Manh Tien made the commitment at a working session with a Lao National Assembly delegation in Vientiane on August 12.

Tien shared Vietnam’s experience in defining the theme of the meeting, proposing issues to be debated, and perfecting legislation to support the ASEAN Community in its formation process and governments in realising signed agreements.

Vice Chairman of the Laos National Assembly Saysomphon Phomvihan appreciated Vietnam’s valuable experience which he said will help Lao make AIPA 35 in September a great success.

The same day, the Laos National Assembly Chairwoman Pany Zathotou received the Vietnamese delegation.


August 11, 2014

Laos Freezes Salary Increase For Civil Servants

Laos Freezes Salary Increase For Civil Servants


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Delegates listen to speeches during the the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party’s national congress in Vientiane, in a file photo.  AFP

The cash-strapped government in Laos has imposed a freeze on salary increases for civil servants during the new fiscal year beginning October, reports say, as the country reels from shrinking revenues.

Some government workers said their morale has been dampened by the state media’s announcement of the freeze on July 31.

A government decree had assured the more than 150,000 civil servants of salary increases for three consecutive years beginning from the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

The salary increase could not go ahead due to current “budget tensions,” the Vientiane Times reported.

The government has to exercise cautious spending and cut unnecessary expenditure, it said.

Senior Ministry of Finance official Bounzoum Sisavath confirmed the freeze in the report, which came following the approval by the National Assembly, the country’s parliament, of a trimmed down budget for the next fiscal year.

Civil servants received a salary increase and a monthly living allowance of 760,000 kip (U.S. $94) in 2012-2013.

The monthly allowance, which is much larger than the salary increase, was suspended this fiscal year.

Loss of incentive

One state employee who works closely with employees in the provinces said the salary freeze especially dampens the motivation of workers serving in remote areas.

The employees are already facing various constraints in the rural areas and had been expecting the salary increase as an incentive, he said.

“They feel very discouraged,” he said. “Some do not want to work and want to come back or be transferred out.”

“They say working in remote areas is already a sacrifice. When the government  suspends the salary increase, the only incentive is gone.”

Laos, which has more than six million people, currently has approximately 156,000 civil servants.

The Lao government’s financial difficulties were a key focus in the recent National Assembly session.

Lack of transparency

According to an official report, in the first half of the current fiscal year, the government collected just over 9.221 trillion kip (U.S. $1.1 billion), or 36.5 percent of the annual plan, the Vientiane Times reported.

According to Minister of Finance Lien Thikeo, budgetary woes stemmed largely from lack of transparency by finance officials, who help companies avoid their tax obligations, the report said.

Under questioning at the National Assembly, he described how some finance officials would help to manipulate the books of companies to show low or no profits, enabling them to evade taxes.

Poor revenue collection is due to lack of strong enforcement mechanisms to ensure businesses and enterprises pay taxes.

Lien Thikeo believes that updating revenue collection with modern technology can help minimize the problem of tax fraud.

The ministry has begun a pilot program to use electronic systems, such as smart cards, at border checkpoints in Vientiane, as well as the provinces of Luang Namtha, Champassak and Bokeo, according to the Times.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Somnet Inthapannha. Written in English by Di Hoa Le.


August 1, 2014

Laos struggles to lower maternal mortality

Laos struggles to lower maternal mortality

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Steve Finch, Vientiane, Laos. July 30, 2014
Laos struggles to lower maternal mortality
The number midwives and skilled birth attendants in Laos is expected to nearly double, to 1500, by 2015, owing to training support from the UN Population Fund.

When 32-year-old Bouavanh Songmala was growing up in a remote village in Laos, death during child birth was all too common. UN agencies estimated there were 1215 such deaths per 100 000 live births in 1990. At the time, Laos had few midwives; none had been trained between 1987 and 2010, mainly due to lack of funds.

Bouavanh recently qualified as a male midwife in this southeast Asian nation, joining the ranks of 800 midwives and skilled birth attendants. Despite this improvement, more than half of women still lack supervised births. And Laos’ maternal mortality rate remains among the worst outside of Africa. UN agencies and the Ministry of Health estimate there are still between 220 and 370 deaths per 100 000 live births. Laos lags behind other southeast Asian countries, such as Vietnam, which has a maternal mortality rate of 49 deaths per 100 000 births. Canada’s rate is 11 per 100 000.

Undeniably, Laos has made progress. WHO said in May that Laos was one of 11 countries that has achieved a 75% reduction in maternal mortality since 2000. However, there is great uncertainty as to accuracy of statistics, because birth and death registers are not kept, and, according to a May 2014 article in The Lancet, determining what constitutes a maternal death is not straightforward.

Laos is aiming to achieve the United Nations Millennium Development Goal (MDG) 5:  a 5.5% annual rate of reduction in maternal deaths and a three-quarters drop on 1990 levels. But UN agencies say Laos’ target of 260 deaths per 100 000 live births by 2015 is “unlikely,” a conclusion shared by a study published  in December.

Part of the reason for this pessimism is unreliable numbers and a myriad factors affecting progress. The increase in midwives and skilled birth attendants has certainly helped; skilled attendants are now present at 41.5% of births and more than half of pregnant Laotian women receive skilled antenatal care at least once, says the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), which is helping to train these workers. It expects the number of personnel to nearly double, to 1500, next year. Continued investment and support for midwives will be crucial in helping Laos escape decades of high maternal death rates, says Siriphone Sally Sakulku, UNFPA’s reproductive health program coordinator in the Laos capital of Vientiane. “Laos needs midwives more than ever.”

Birth spacing and improved socioeconomics also seem to play a role in improved maternal mortality. Fertility has fallen from six to three births per woman since 1990, however health workers in the capital of Vientiane say access to contraception hasn’t improved substantially.

UN agencies suggest Laos’ economic growth rate of around 8% in recent years — among the highest in the world — and attendant rising incomes have also helped to reduce maternal deaths.

On the other hand, only 3.7% of deliveries are by Cesarean section and abortion remains illegal.

In addition, accessing people in remote areas is hugely problematic, particularly during the monsoon when roads are frequently washed out.

Australia’s Burnet Institute, which works in eastern Laos, says medical facilities are lacking and medical professionals often refuse to work in remote areas. Christi Lane-Barlow, Burnet’s country representative, says “The level of disparity in terms of what people can access is really, really severe.”



July 30, 2014

Chinese gold miner flees Laos

Chinese gold miner flees Laos

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VIENTIANE —A Chinese firm suspected of illegally mining gold along the Mekong River in Laos has fled the country, state media reported Tuesday.

The unnamed company had permission to extract sand and gravel but was instead mining gold in Bokeo province in northern Laos, the Minister of Energy and Mines Soulivong Daravong told a press conference Friday, according to the Vientiane Times.

The authorities were alerted to the company’s activities by a member of the public who called a hotline concerned at the environmental effects of chemicals used to extract the gold.

The company threatened to detain villagers who approached the area where the mining was taking place, the caller reportedly said. The call prompted the provincial Public Works and Transport Department to order the firm to stop its illegal work.

“After learning about this (the warning), the firm feared that the government would fine them so they escaped back to their country (China),” the minister said.

July 29, 2014

Mine digs Lao communities out of poverty?

The Australia - logos-s95cca2bc86

Mine digs Lao communities out of poverty


The Australian

July 28, 2014 12:00AM

Supplied Editorial Fwd: Emailing: Photo_2 (1).jpg

MMG’s development funding has supported communities near the Sepon mine to build schools, roads and access to water. Source: Supplied

It is not the biggest copper ­operation around. But in terms of national impact, the Australian-built Sepon operation in southern Laos is right up there in its economic and social development contribution.

Now in its 12th year of production — it started out as a gold producer — the Sepon project accounts for just over 8 per cent of the impoverished, but fast-growing, nation’s GDP through direct and indirect benefits.

It has just passed a milestone when it comes to direct benefits (taxes, royalties and dividends), with total payments since production started now standing at more than $US1.1 billion after the payment to the government (a 10 per cent partner in the mine) of $US136 million in respect of 2013 earnings. Sepon is expected to produce about 90,000 tonnes of copper this year and has studies underway in the possible resumption of gold production.

Built by Owen Hegarty’s Oxiana Resources, Sepon is now part of the Australian-managed but Chinese-controlled MMG, following MMG’s acquisition in 2009 of a portfolio of mining assets from OZ Minerals (formed through the merger of Zinifex and Oxiana in 2008).

MMG chief executive Andrew Michelmore told The Australian that while the $US1bn-plus direct payments milestone was important, the “greatest legacy we are creating is in local skills”.

“Our Lao employees have taken the opportunities at Sepon and turned them into skills and careers, within the mine and beyond. “From scratch in terms of mining skills, we’ve trained and developed a workforce that is more than 90 per cent Lao, and we’ve moved 100 Lao nationals into management roles. Whatever way you look at it we are in this together with the people of Laos,’’ Mr Michelmore said.

MMG’s community investment is also significant. Development funds have been made available for 42 local villages or more than 10,000 people. Since 2010, the development funding has supported communities near Sepon mine to build schools, roads, latrines, fish ponds, access to water and village offices.

“We also invest for the future by helping local businesses target national and international markets. We work in partnership at every level, from national government to local communities,’’ Mr Michelmore said.

One of the local business projects being supported is the milled rice enhancement project in Vilabouly. The project aims to build capacity among 1300 small farming households for rice-growing around the mine. It promotes a high-yield rice seed, improved production methods, and marketing solutions.

Mr Michelmore said the hope was that local producers would ultimately supply the Sepon mine with its total annual rice requirements of 150 tonnes.

In comments provided by MMG’s Sepon office, the vice president of the Lao National Chamber of Commerce and ­Industry, Daovone Phachanthavong, said that a 2012 survey by Earth Systems Lao found that household incomes in villages near the mine had increased tenfold since Sepon commenced ­operations. “Sepon mine is an excellent example of how the sustainable management of natural resources can contribute positively to human development,” he was quoted as saying.


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