Laos Ministry of Public Works and Transport has informed state inspectors at their annual meeting that its investigation unit found that hundreds of its employees engaged in corruption in 2018.
Of the 1,002 cases that were uncovered, about 850 workers were disciplined and 55 were prosecuted on criminal charges, according to a copy of the report obtained by RFAs Lao Service. The remaing employees are still under investigation.
Most of the corruption involved infrastructure development projects such as road construction and repairs throughout the country, it said.
Work on some projects that received funding was not done properly or was left unfinished, while other projects hadnt been started or officials deliberately overestimated costs and pocketed the extra kip, the report said.
Most roads are not complete or are half-complete, and some have been completed, but they are not in good condition, a local transportation official in eastern Laos Houaphanh province told RFAs Lao Service.
Some projects have not even begun at all, but they have already received money from the government, said the official who declined to be named out of fear of being fired for speaking to the media.
Many projects have not been accounted for, though they have been allocated funds without approval by the countrys National Assembly, he added.
Among these projects are three road construction and repair projects in Houaphons Xam Tai district in which corrupt officials split among themselves money allocated for the work, the official said.
They began doing the work in 2015, and its not finished yet, he said. And other road repair projects have been left unfinished as well, so we dont know whether [the government] is going to allocate more of the budget to repair them or not. The [transportation] ministry hasnt said anything.
Its going too slowly, and they never finish, he said. They are not adhering to the contract with the state for the road-building and repair work.
The three road construction and repair jobs on thoroughfares from Vieng Xay district to Xam Tai district, from Xam Tai district to the Tang Hua border with Vietnam, and from Xam Tai district to the Hoang A border with Vietnam were scheduled for completion by 2018, but they remain unfinished on account of a lack of funding, the official said.
Another job in Phon Thong district, Luang Prabang province, where workers are fixing up a 107-kilometer (66-mile) road from Luang Prabang to the Vietnamese border, has been underway since 2016, but the work is now being suspended on account of lack of progress, said a district transportation official who declined to be named.
We dont know whats going on, he told RFA, adding that district officials have contacted the provincial and central governments as well as the Ministry of Public Works and Transport for updates, but have received no response.
They [central government officials] came down in 2018, but nothing has happened since, he said. Then the road repairs were put on hold.
Its difficult to travel on those unrepaired roads right now, he added. Especially during the rainy season, small cars and buses cannot drive along it.
The ministrys report said that corruption in 2018 cost the government 846.44 billion kip, (U.S. $97.7 million).
It also said that it was able to get back some of money during its investigations, but did not state how much.
A widespread, long-term problem
Rampant corruption has also been rife in other government ministries as well as in provincial and municipal governments in the past year.
In one high-profile case in September 2018, the Ministry of Finance fired eight high-ranking officials, including the director of the budget department and the general director of the ministry
In that case, the finance minister did not specify which ghost projects the fired officials were involved in, but in 2014, another ministry employee told RFA that the eight high-ranking officials were involved in a scheme to build a U.S. $10-million infrastructure project that included an access road to a new stadium in northwestern Laos Oudomxay province.
Also last year, 10 officials in Savannakhet province were charged with corruption, and some received jail terms.
And this March 24, Vientiane municipality fired or disciplined seven officials for embezzling state funds, an official from the citys finance and tax department told RFA.
State investigators found that contractors and corrupt officials inflated the actual costs of 285 state projects so that they collectively totaled more than 4.5 billion kip (U.S. $517 million) last year for mostly infrastructure development projects in the provinces of Luang Nam Tha, Oudomxay, Luang Prabang, Hua Phanh, Xieng Khouang, Borikhamxay, Savannakhet, Champassak, Attapeu, and Vientiane, according to the central inspection units report.
An investigation in Hua Phanh province alone found corruption by that 970 state employees added up to 104 billion kip (U.S. $12 million), a provincial official who declined to be name out of fear of retribution told RFA on March 21.
Corruption has been a widespread and long-term problem in the developing country because of Laos weak laws and lack of enforcement by authorities
Transparency International, a Berlin-based global anticorruption coalition, ranked Laos 132 among 180 countries on its Corruption Perceptions Index for 2018 and gave the country a score of 29 on a scale in which 0 is highly corrupt and 100 is very clean.
The group said corruption remained endemic among most of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), of which Laos is a member state.
Corruption exists at every level of government in Laos and is difficult to uproot because it has become part of the countrys culture, a source familiar with corruption in Laos told RFA.
Reported by RFAs Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
Copyright 1998-2018, RFA. Published with the permission of Radio Free Asia, 2025 M St. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20036