Laos Reviews 39 Years of Remarkable Progress

Political stability, security, social order and economic growth, all of which have been successfully maintained, have been the outstanding achievements of the Lao government and people under the guidance of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party over the past year.

Party and government leaders, and representatives of the diplomatic corps and international organisations, all cited these highlights in the speeches they made to mark the 39th anniversary of the founding of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

A ceremony to accept the good wishes of the diplomatic corps and international organisations took place at the Presidential Palace on Monday.

“We are delighted to witness that Laos continues to enjoy firm political stability, security and social order, and has achieved a relatively high GDP growth rate of 7.5 percent compared to 2013,” President Choummaly said.

President Choummaly also highlighted the achievements made in the areas of education, social and cultural development, and the overall well-being of the people, which he said has also improved.

In addition, he noted that the current GDP per capita has reached US$1,692, while poverty reduction efforts have reduced the percentage of poor households to 8.11 percent.

“All this has laid a solid foundation for us to continue realising the objectives of the current Seventh Five-Year Plan in its final stage,” he said.

On behalf of the Party, government, and Lao people of all ethnicities, President Choummaly thanked the diplomatic corps and representatives of international organisations, the government and people of their respective countries and heads of organisations for the continued support and assistance rendered to Laos over the past years.

Malaysian Ambassador to Laos and Dean of the diplomatic corps, Laos Dato’ Than Tai Hing, made special mention of Laos’ economic growth, saying it is considered to be highest in the region in terms of GDP growth, and faster than the average growth rate of developing Asian countries.

He also emphasised the government’s success in maintaining political stability, security and social order, ensuring that Lao people of all ethnic groups can enjoy their legitimate rights and freedom and actively participate in national development.

Dato’ Than Tai Hing represented other members of the diplomatic corps in expressing their confidence that Laos, as a least developed and landlocked country, through the wise guidance of its leaders, will realise its ambition to transform the country into a hub of connectivity.

This will enable integration of the economy with those of neighbouring countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion and the world.

Referring to the efforts of the Lao government and people to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and graduate from Least Developed Country status, the ambassador also expressed his confidence that Laos would graduate from that status by 2020.

The ambassador also underlined the success of Laos in terms of its pragmatic foreign policy, which has accelerated diplomatic relations with its neighbours and the international community.

This was underscored by the increase in the number of countries with which Laos has diplomatic relations, which has now reached 136.


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Notable success in Laos-Belarus cooperation

July 6, 2013

After an official visit to Belarus, President Choummaly Sayasone and his delegation arrived in Vientiane yesterday after notable diplomatic achievements which set the path for greater cooperation between the two countries in the future.

Among the significant successes are the fact that the president and his Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko reaffirmed their willingness to expand cooperation in economic and trade matters based on each other’s potential, according to the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

In this regard, both sides agreed to work together to bolster cooperation in investment, the machinery industry, agricultural processing, crude oil, pharmacy and chemistry, as well as science and technology.

To stimulate greater cooperation, the respective parties aim to bring about conditions to facilitate economic and trade relations and explore joint-venture production operations. In practical support, 10 agreements were signed following talks between the two heads-of-state.

The documents signed included agreements on visa-free travel for diplomats and official passport holders, on promotion and mutual protection of investments, on the avoidance of double taxation and the prevention of fiscal evasion with respect to taxes on income and property. Other agreements pertain to cooperation in research and development and education, according to the Belarusian Telegraph Agency (BTA).

The leaders agreed on the mutual participation of Belarusian and Lao enterprises in the state programmes of the two countries. They will also make use of the newly-established Laos-Belarus Joint Cooperation Commission to boost bilateral relations.

The two leaders highly value their countries’ traditionally friendly relations. They also reached consensus to extend mutual support to one another in regional and international arenas.

In the legislative field, the leaders shared a commitment to increase cooperation between legislative bodies through exchange visits by delegations from their respective national assemblies.

During the visit to Belarus, the Lao president and his entourage toured some important places in the country including the Minsk Automobile Plant and a military academy.

President Choummaly also had meetings with Belarusian Prime Minster Mikhail Myasnikovich as well as high-level congressmen of the Belarusian parliament. On this occasion, President Choummaly invited President Lukashenko and Prime Minister Myasnikovich to visit Laos in the future.

Officials of both sides will also organise activities to mark the 20th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Laos and Belarus.

There has been considerable diplomatic activity between the two countries in recent times. Early last month, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Dr Thongloun Sisoulith led a delegation paying an official visit to Belarus.

On that occasion, both sides signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the Joint Cooperation Commission between Laos and Belarus. Late last month, Belarusian Economy Minister, Mr Mikalay Snapkow, led a delegation to visit Laos.


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Laos, Cuba hold talks on bilateral ties

Lao leaders and the visiting Vice President of Cuba’s Council of State have reaffirmed both sides will work together to deepen the traditionally friendly relations and cooperation between Laos and Cuba.

The Lao leaders told Mr Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, 53, that the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) and the government will continue to nurture close bilateral relations and cooperation with Cuba.

Mr Bermudez, who is also First Vice President of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Cuba and a politburo member of the Communist Party of Cuba, arrived in Vientiane yesterday for a two-day official visit to Laos. His visit was made in response to an invitation from Lao Vice President and politburo member, Mr Bounnhang Vorachit.

Following an official welcoming ceremony on Saturday at the Presidential Office, Mr Bermudez and the Lao vice president held talks on bilateral ties. Mr Bermudez also paid a courtesy visit to President Choummaly Sayasone and called on Prime Minister Thongsing Thammavong.

“At the talks, the Lao leaders reaffirmed the consistent guidelines of the Lao Party and government to enhance the traditional friendly relations and cooperation between the two countries,” a press release from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

The Lao leaders expressed their heartfelt thanks to the government, people and Communist Party of Cuba (CPC), for the valuable support and assistance they extended to the struggle for liberation in Laos and the current effort for national development and defence.

For his part, Mr Bermudez reaffirmed the guidelines of the government and Communist Party of Cuba to continue deepening the traditional friendly relations and cooperation between the two parties, governments and peoples.

He pledged that Cuba will continue to assist Laos in relation to human resource development and provide assistance in the health and sports sectors, according to the press release.

At the talks, both sides informed each other about the socio-economic situations in their respective countries, reviewed past collaboration and discussed future cooperation in addition to exchanging views on regional and international issues of mutual interest.

On this occasion, Mr Bermudez conveyed the invitation from the First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba’s Central Committee, Mr Raúl Castro to President Choummaly, who is also Secretary General of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, to pay an official visit to Cuba at some point in the future.

Mr Castro is also President of the Council of State and the President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba.

The Lao Foreign Ministry described the official visit of Mr Bermudez to Laos as ‘one of the important events in Laos-Cuba relations,’ developing the traditionally friendly relations between the two countries and peoples to ‘a new height’ for the mutual benefit of both parties.

The Cuban delegation also toured various cultural attractions in Vientiane and met with local diplomatic staff before departing Laos for Cuba yesterday.


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Laos-China rail project ‘no obstacle’: minister

April 12, 2013

There are no obstacles to the planned building of the Laos-China high speed railway, although the two governments are in the process of negotiations on the project, Minister of Public Works and Transport Sommad Pholsena said yesterday.

“The two governments are negotiating so that construction can go ahead,” he told local media while attending the ongoing open government meeting in Vientiane.

The minister was unable to say when exactly construction would begin on the US$7 billion railway, which will link Vientiane to the Lao-Chinese border over a distance of 421km.

But he said construction would begin shortly after all parties had reached an agreement and all preparations were complete.

“We should have confidence in the development of a railway network in Laos,” he said. “We have to be patient – rail projects cost a huge amount of money.”

Previously, it was reported that Laos and China planned to jointly undertake the mega railway project, with China to put up 70 percent of the investment cost. A groundbreaking ceremony was planned for 2011 with a completion date of 2015, but the ceremony did not take place.

The project was delayed after the Chinese construction company reportedly pulled out because they felt it would not be sufficiently profitable.

However, the Lao government is determined to bring the project to fruition, and hopes to obtain financing through a loan from China.

In this regard, the National Assembly (NA) approved a “go-ahead bill” at an extraordinary session held last October, to enable the government to realise the project. When asked about financing and whether Laos would still be the sole investor in the project using a loan from Beijing, as reported at the NA’s extraordinary session, Mr Sommad said ‘The details have not been agreed upon.”

But he said that whatever could be agreed upon by both sides for their mutual benefit would be possible.

Although the project requires a huge investment, Mr Sommad was optimistic that it would be realised. The government has a clear policy to transform Laos from being landlocked to a land link and a transport hub for surrounding countries.

The planned railway would form part of the Asean-China rail link, which begins in Yunnan province, China, and runs southwards to Singapore through Laos and Thailand.

In the original plan, passenger trains running at speeds of up to 200 kph were planned but the Lao government has decided to reduce this to 160kph for safety reasons, partly due to the hilly terrain. Goods trains meanwhile will travel at a maximum speed of 120kph, according to a report presented at the NA’s extraordinary session.

Passenger trains might be able to reach a speed of 200kph between Vientiane and Vangvieng where the land is relatively flat, but more studies are needed, the report said.

The project will also include 31 stations, but the government plans to open 20 stations initially and the rest later on.

There will be seven major stations along the route, of which two will be in Vientiane. From there, the railway will run north to China, stopping in Phonhong and Vangvieng districts in Vientiane province, before continuing on to Luang Prabang, Oudomxay, Luang Namtha and the Chinese border.


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Prof. Bosengkham Vongdara highlights Party’s achievements

April 4, 2013

Prof. Bosengkham Vongdara

Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vongdara highlights Party’s achievements, according to him, the tourism sector experienced rapid growth in 2012 thanks to the wise leadership of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party.

Speaking at a lecture on Tuesday to mark the 58th anniversary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party, Prof. Dr Bosengkham, who is a member of the Party Central Committee, said that under the Party’s leadership, Lao people have gained access to global information sources. Ordinary people can watch a large number of foreign television channels including BBC and CNN. He said Laos enjoyed greater media freedom than many other countries, adding that in some countries it’s not possible to access as many international broadcasting channels.

One of the major achievements of the Party’s leadership in 2012 was the boom in tourism. Prof. Dr Bosengkham said tourist arrivals climbed to 3.3 million in 2012, generating income of about US$500 million. Political stability, improved transport and the country’s picturesque scenery make Laos an attractive tourist destination. Another significant aspect of the Party’s leadership is that Laos has been able to maintain political stability. This is essential for the government to develop the country and bring prosperity to its people, who are the owners of the country.

Laos has seen GDP growth of over 7.5 percent for the past 10 years thanks to the Party’s wise leadership. Strong and continuous economic growth has helped to free large numbers of people from poverty. At present, only 17 percent of households are categorised as poor.

Annual per capita income now stands at US$1,355, up from just US$114 in 1995 and US$534 in 2006. Laos is now on track to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals in 2015.

The Lao People’s Revolutionary Party was established on March 22, 1955, in the former revolutionary stronghold of Huaphan in the northeast of Laos. The Party was formed to lead the Lao people in repelling the foreign aggressors. The Party played a significant role in leading its armed forces and civilians to liberate the country from foreign domination.

This enabled the Party to seize power from the royal government and establish the Lao People’s Democratic Republic on December 2, 1975. Many ministries and government bodies around the country held similar events to mark the Party’s founding.

Some 300 ministry officials, most of them Party members, attended the lecture to learn about the history and achievements of the Party from the time of its founding in 1955 until the present.


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Officials vow to make real progress towards MDGs

April 5, 2013

Lao and overseas officials have vowed to compile a report that reflects the true progress of Laos towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

The officials made this commitment during a second workshop held yesterday in Vientiane to discuss the draft of the third report on the progress made towards the landmark development goals.

“I wish you well in generating a good report which reflects the reality of our situation, foresees and agrees on the challenges and figures, and how much achievement has been recorded so far,” Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Alounkeo Kittikhoun said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

Mr Alounkeo highlighted Laos’ achievements in striving for MDG No. 1 which concerns poverty reduction. He said the percentage of people living below the national poverty line has dropped from 48 percent in 1990 to 22 percent at present.

But despite this figure having been halved, the problem persists and there is no easy solution, he said. The same is true of malnutrition, which is a big challenge and is not just about health but involves awareness, healthy eating, breastfeeding, education and issues surrounding stunted growth.

He praised the cooperation between the Lao government, UN agencies and development partners who help to find solutions to ensure better coordination on nutrition. At the same time he called on line ministries and UN agencies to agree on figures during the workshop as a basis for continuing the good work towards realising the goals.

Regarding MDG No. 7 which relates to environmental sustainability, Mr Alounkeo said land use management had been effective in certain areas but not in others.

“We should not deny that mistakes have been made and we welcome all the comments of our friends, and on that basis we will always try to improve,” he added.

Mr Alounkeo also referred to Laos’ special goal – MDG No. 9 – the clearance of unexploded ordnance. UXO is a great obstacle to development efforts as all 17 provinces in the country are contaminated with these remnants of war.

UN Resident Coordinator Minh Pham said that, despite the brighter picture, progress had not essentially been made on the situation presented at the Round Table Implementation Meeting last November. However, some detailed and supportive indicators have changed and the availability of new data such as the labour force survey did not reveal differences with ongoing administrative data.

He noted that some of the new data from the survey confirms the continuing progress shown by the administrative data such as in education, while other data also showed that progress was not as much as had been assumed.

“Some data may also show that the disparity between different social economic groups could be greater than we have assumed. I would suggest that we welcome all new data even if these will conflict with previous assumptions,” Mr Pham said.


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Sam Sang directive to be deeply implemented: Minister

March 30, 2013

A lack of concrete devolution of responsibilities, and regulations and experience in this regard, has resulted in shortcomings in the Sam Sang (Three Builds) directive of the information, culture and tourism sectors.

The Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism reached the conclusion at a meeting which opened yesterday to review the sector’s implementation of the six-month first phase of the pilot project of the Three Builds directive. “Improper understanding in regard to devolution and non-concrete supporting regulations has resulted in shortcomings in practical terms,” it was detailed in the meeting report.

The ministry, along with other ministries and government agencies, started the pilot of the Three Builds initiative last October, aiming to work closely to monitor programmes, projects and activities at every level to ensure they are being carried out in line with the directive.

Experience in the pilot implementation period has shown that provincial departments and district offices of information, culture and tourism are confused as to which duties and activities come under their responsibility, and which ones the ministry is directly responsible for.

The ministry has recognised that because the Three Builds is a strategic and highly revolutionary initiative that has be en devised in response to modern day requirements, Party committees, leaders at all levels, members and staffers should fully understand the directive. They also need to have ideological unity and work towards the systematic and comprehensive implementation of the plan.

The ministry has sent officials to survey the needs of the information, culture and tourism sectors in eight provinces, in order to devolve responsibility. This means that departments under the ministry will now concentrate on macro management. The Sam Sang pilot project involves 17 provinces, 51 districts and 108 focal villages nationwide.

The Three Builds directive aims to build up provinces as strategy-making units, districts as comprehensively strengthened units, and villages as development units.

From the lessons learned, the ministry has studied ways to adapt the established devolution in the sector to match the requirements of the third Politburo Resolution. This stipulates that the ministry is responsible for the implementation of directions, strategic plans, regulations and development of laws, personnel development planning, science and technical research, as well as monitoring.

In the field of information, the newly adapted devolution plan stipulates that the ministry will take sole responsibility for drafting and implementing Party directions into strategic plans, programmes, projects, and regulations. However, the ministry and its provincial departments have to cooperate on numerous issues, such as human resource development planning for sub-sectors.

In regards to culture, the ministry will study and comment on technical issues in relation to any projects that may have an impact on culture, while the provincial authorities will monitor and comment on those projects which may have an impact on culture in their own provinces. The review meeting, which is being attended by officials from all provincial information, culture and tourism departments, will run until tomorrow.

Minister of Information, Culture and Tourism, Prof. Dr Bosengkham Vongdara, who is head of the committee responsible for the ministry’s T hree Builds programme, stressed that some fundamental work has been completed during the pilot implementation period.

Prof. Dr Bosengkham also focused on the shortcomings of the project, saying implementation was not only deficient, but that visits by central level officials to the provinces had burdened local officials in regards to reception arrangements.

He called on participants to actively engage in discussion on the outcomes and lessons learned from the past phase, and plan for the implementation of the directive in the next phase, ensuring there are improved outcomes and concrete devolution.


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58th anniversary of Lao People’s Revolutionary Party marked

March 25, 2013

The Organisation Board of the Party Central Committee held a lecture to celebrate the 58th founding anniversary of the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) in Vientiane Capital last Friday.

Head of Party Central Committee’s Organisation Board, Mr. Chansy Phosikham lectured on the long profile of the LPRP for Party members and his staff.

On the occasion, Mr. Chansy, representing the Party Central Committee’s Organisation Board, handed over red cards to 87 Party members, of whom 24 were women.

Mr. Chansy recalled the great history of the Party dating back to 1893 when Laos was a French colony and the Lao people were under French imperialist exploitation. “At that time there was a brave struggle of the Lao people for the independence and victory of the country in 1945,” said Mr. Chansy.

The LPRP was founded on 22 March 1955, following the resolution of the 2nd Congress of Indochina Communist Party, according to Mr Chansy.

The lecture was designed to equip Party members and civil servants a better understanding of tradition, history and the significant achievements in fighting for national independence against colonial power of the Party.


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China’s relations with Laos to remain unchanged

March 25, 2013

China’s policy regarding Laos will stay the same even though the country has a new leadership, a Chinese embassy official has said.

Chief of the Political Section of the Chinese embassy to Laos, Mr Wang Hongsun, reaffirmed the Chinese government’s policy towards Laos at a press conference held at the embassy on Friday.

Mr Wang informed Lao media of the outcome of the first session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) and the first session of China’s 12th National People’s Congress (NPC).

“Countries in Asia remain the top priority of the comprehensive foreign policy of China as we give importance to neighbouring countries, especially Laos,” Mr Wang said.

The CPPCC and the NPC, which took place earlier this month, resulted in changes to the Chinese government, with Xi Jingping elected as the President of China and Li Keqiang as Premier Minister.

Mr Wang said that whatever generation comes to power in the Chinese government, China’s policy on Laos will not change but will strengthen because the two countries share a common ideology in which socialism is seen as the path to growth.

Laos and China established diplomatic relations in 1961. Cooperation between the two countries centres on politics, economics, trade and investment, culture and tourism.

Mr Wang reminded the audience of the basic principles of the Chinese government’s foreign policy, which includes long-term and trusting friendly relations and cooperation that benefits mutual interests.

During the previous generation of the CPPCC and NPC, annual visits by high-ranking Chinese officials to Laos became a tradition, and will take place again this year to enhance the strategic partnership between the two counties.

Mr Wang said he was confident that the new Chinese leadership would enhance China’s policy of cooperation with Laos, the details of which will be unveiled during officials’ visits to Laos.

The Chinese embassy official then answered questions from media personnel about his personal view of the new Chinese leaders’ perspective on measures against corruption.

Mr Wang observed that high-level officials who had been found to be involved in corrupt practices had been punished.

“Our leaders’ position on this kind of behaviour in any generation is the same. The steps they take are for the benefit of our people, and I am confident that the new leaders will consider tougher action against corrupt conduct so they don’t lose the people’s trust,” he said.


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Vice President addresses Vientiane on Three Builds directive

By Souksakhone Vaenkeo
March 21, 2013

Lao Vice President Bounnhang Vorachit (Photo: Minh Châu-TGVN)

Vice President Bounnhang Vorachit yesterday instructed the Vientiane authorities to help district and village authorities to formulate socio-economic development plans based on local strength, in a bid to spur development in local communities.

Mr Bounnhang made the suggestion at a two-day meeting of Vientiane authority on the implementation of the newly-initiated Three Builds directive on devolution (Sam Sang directive) that took place in the capital.

The directive, which features in the Resolution of the 9th Party Congress, spells out how provinces are to be built up as strategy-making units, districts are to be strengthened in all regards, and villages are to become development units. The directive has been in force since October last year.

Mr Bounnhang asked the authorities to focus on the three districts and ten villages designated to pilot the Three Builds initiative.

“The Vientiane Planning and Investment Department must lead the districts and villages designated to pilot the Sam Sang in drawing up development plans,” said Mr Bounnhang, who is Chairman of the National Committee in charge of Sam Sang activities.

“The districts and villages designated to pilot the Sam Sang must have commercially-based production projects along with other projects.”

To achieve this, the vice president suggested the Vientiane authorities send technical staff to work in local communities to lead people in carrying out production activities and teach them the correct techniques to boost productivity.

Although Vientiane boasts high agricultural production potential, the vice president noted that much of this potential remains untapped and the city imports a large number of farm products.

In this regard, he instructed officials to draw up plans and identify which crops should be grown in larger quantities, and to encourage farmers to grow them.

He reiterated that priority should be given to developing the districts and villages targeted as Sam Sang models, so they could in turn drive development in the surrounding areas.

“The allocation of state budget for investment must be in line with this direction,” he said.

To successfully implement the Sam Sang directive, Mr Bounnhang said “We must take action thoroughly.”

The vice president stressed the need to attach great importance to sustainable development based on environmentally-friendly development.

But he noted that forest areas across the capital have been occupied and overexploited, saying that forests in many areas are gradually disappearing while sawmills are mushrooming.

In this regard, he instructed officials to wisely allocate and manage land for development purposes based on sustainability.

In addition, the authorities were asked to revise legislation to ensure it was in harmony with the Sam Sang directive, which gives district and village authorities more responsibilities and tasks.

Mr Bounnhang also instructed the authorities to work harder to address social ills. He cited the prevalence of theft, bag snatching, drug abuse and smuggling, and flouting of the traffic regulations which causes road accidents, and other forms of anti-social behaviour.

The authorities were als o asked to work harder to ensure security, in order to create conditions conducive to development.

He suggested that special attention be placed on managing households, and making sure that foreigners whose documents were invalid were deported.

Mr Bounnhang recalled that taking action to carry out the Three Builds directive was aimed at realising the Resolution of the 9th Party Congress. The Resolution set an ambitious goal to reduce poverty among poor families from the currently estimated 13 percent to less than 10 percent by 2015 and advance the country further towards graduating from Least Developed Country status by 2020 and the creation of a socialist nation.

Vientiane Mayor Mr Soukanh Mahalath committed to leading officials in taking action to realise the advice of the vice president.

Deputy ministers and representatives of various government agencies also attended the meeting that ended today.


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