On 14 November, Lao government officials and international donors gather in Vientiane for the 2014 Round Table Implementation Meeting. The event is designed for participants to review implementation of the country’s 7th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (2011-2015) as well as other issues discussed during the 11th High-Level Round Table Meeting in November 2013. Today’s meeting also provides an opportunity for the Lao government and international donors to share information and ideas regarding development policies and strategies.
In recent years, official development assistance (ODA) to Laos has steadily increased. ODA rose by 23% from US$630 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year to US$777 million in 2012-13. Regrettably, the commitment shown by foreign donors to improving the lives of the Lao people has not been matched by a similar willingness by the Lao government to promote and protect its people’s fundamental rights, FIDH and LMHR said in the letter.
For a country that relies on foreign assistance for roughly 70% of its budget, the agronomist’s disappearance—and the government’s subsequent unwillingness to forthrightly address it—has become a major headache. Few in Laos have built bridges between the foreign and local development communities as effectively as Sombath Somphone.
It is unlikely any single event could attract more international scrutiny of Laos’ appalling human rights record than the Sombath Somphone case did in late 2012 and 2013. Yet, the ritual announcements of donor aid have continued, including a recent top-up of US$3.9 million from the US, EU, UNDP and France for the Legal Sector Master Plan and its goal of instituting a rule of law state in Laos by 2020. In this game, Lao leaders uphold their side of the bargain by maintaining the government’s commitment to goals negotiated as part of the annual Round Table Process between the government and donors, such as pursuing “offtrack areas of the MDGs” and strengthening the rule of law. As long as egregious incidents like Sombath’s enforced disappearance fail to impact upon this bargain, such commitments will continue to operate as mechanisms of governance that reinforce the status quo, rather than as principles guiding better governance.
Let’s look at our model of development as it exists today. The development model that is widely practiced today is not very sustainable. So many things do not fit, thus so many “failures” just like in our “schooling”. For example, the world is so rich and yet there is widespread poverty. Unprecedented advances have been made in agriculture and aquaculture, yet more people go to bed hungry each day than ever before. Some nations have become so powerful, but the world has become ever more insecure. One can be so rich in materials but yet so poor emotionally and spiritually. And the list goes on.
The definition of poverty used in Laos by international agencies and institutions is very much based on a measurement of cash income or gross national product (GNP) that is based on products and cash. It does not emphasise social and environmental capital. International agencies and institutions talk about cash capital and material capital, which is basically what comes from industry not from natural products. So in using that criteria yes, Laos is a “least developed” country and based on this criteria Laos is considered “poor”.
But the poverty here and in other countries is quite different. Poverty here is basically cash poor; social services are poor – education and health care services do not reach many people – that is “poor”. But the natural social capital and the indigenous social capital is quite high. For example, people really care about one another, they help one another and in this sense, I think we are quite wealthy. In terms of the environment, we are lucky that we are not very populated and nature can provide a lot of things that makes us kind of easy-going. This should be seen as a capital, it is our national wealth.
But in the World Bank and the mainstream economic system of measuring poverty, these factors are not considered and Laos is seen as “poor”. From the Western point of view, it is seen as a disadvantage if you are not competing against each other.
Sombath Somphone, in Watershed Vol. 7 No. 2 November 2001 – February 2002
Anne-Sophie Gindroz, ancienne directrice d’Helvetas au Laos, décrit le climat effrayant qui règne dans ce pays qui brade ses ressources aux compagnies étrangères et fait taire toute contestation.
En décembre 2012, Sombath Somphone suivait sa femme au volant de sa voiture pour rentrer chez eux à Vientiane, la capitale du Laos. Sur l’avenue de Thadeua, il fut tiré hors de son véhicule par des agents de police. Ni sa femme ni aucun de ses proches ne revit Sombath après cet épisode.
De nombreux gouvernements, des personnalités internationales, des parlementaires et organisations de la société civile ont cherché en vain à savoir où il se trouvait. Et la cause du droit à la terre des populations rurales au Laos, que Sombath s’efforçait de faire reconnaître, reste toujours largement ignorée
Des compagnies multinationales se ruent sur le Laos et d’autres pays dits «sous-développés» pour y acheter des terres ou les droits sur les ressources que leurs sous-sols recèlent auprès de gouvernements locaux, régionaux et nationaux. Dans de nombreux pays, les terres ont un immense potentiel pour des opérations minières, agricoles et forestières. Du bois d’arbres plusieurs fois centenaires est pratiquement bradé par des gouvernements de pays pauvres au nom du développement économique. Continue reading “Ce que cache la disparition d’un militant des droits de l’homme au Laos”
A secretive ruling clique and murky land-grabs spell trouble for a poor country.
THE Airbus A320 was ordered by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi, but somehow ended up as the prized possession of Lao Airlines. From a window seat flying above Laos a visitor gets a sense of the state’s weaknesses. Deforestation stretches all the way to the Chinese border. It is so recent and so extreme that scientists from Sweden’s Lund university picked Laos as a testing ground for a new method of monitoring economic activity from space. By combining night-time satellite images with land-use data, they can estimate, with surprising accuracy, changes in agricultural and non-agricultural activity. For Laos, it also means monitoring the impact of Chinese and Vietnamese cash from space.
On the ground in the northern province of Oudomxay, most jeeps roaming the deforested valley bear Chinese and Vietnamese number plates. Four of the province’s districts are among the fastest-growing rural economies in the country, according to the researchers in Sweden. (Laos’s obscurantist government publishes little information about anything.) Investment is flowing into agriculture, typically rubber plantations, market gardening and other cash crops, much of it destined for the huge Chinese population to the north. The side-effects include a loss of forests and biodiversity, serious soil erosion and growing numbers of people in this multi-ethnic province being pushed off their land. Continue reading “The future of Laos: A bleak landscape”
This film, created in 2012 by PADETC, shows the impact of Sombath’s development concepts in a process of participatory problem solving in a village in Pek District of Xieng Kuang Province. The process is led by high school student volunteers involved in the ‘Youth Development for Drug Prevention in School’ project of the Ministry of Education and Sports. Students collected information about conditions in their communities using Sombath’s sustainable development framework with the four balanced pillars of social-cultural preservation, environmental harmony, spiritual well-being, and economic development. During the process, villagers agreed the issue of land boundaries was a priority problem that urgently needed to be solved. The film shows the process of problem solving, beginning from the root causes that are determined by the people themselves, and that brings hope to the community. You will also feel the warmth of Sombath’s heart towards his own country and listening to the people’s voice.
To truly achieve the vision of our founding fathers of building a nation governed by the people and for the people and guided by the rule of law to bring about ‘peace, independence, solidarity, and prosperity for all Lao’, the Lao leaders and policy makers must shift away from the current predominantly western capitalist development model of economic growth and the ‘get rich quick’ mentality. Laos’ development policy and strategies need to become more holistic and balanced and take into consideration 4 dimensions of (1) economic or livelihood security; (2) cultural integrity and continuity; (3) environmental sustainability; and (4) good governance. It is only by adopting such a balanced development model that Laos can achieve longterm sustainable growth and poverty reduction, which is also the theme advocated by the Asia-Europe People’s Forum (AEPF).