OPINION: Laos needs proactive, strict enforcement to achieve rule of law

VIENTIANE (Vientiane Times/ANN) - It is 26 years since the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR) promulgated its first constitution, which laid the foundation for the country to walk on the ambitious path leading to a state ruled by laws.

Sixteen years after the Lao PDR was proclaimed on December 2, 1975, the country promulgated its first constitution on August 15, 1991, marking a historic milestone in the young republic's ambitious journey towards an important destination.

Over the past 26 years, there have been several achievements and considerable progress in this regard. The constitution itself has been amended two times, with the first amended version of the statute promulgated in 2003 and the second (or the current constitution) promulgated on December 15, 2015 in order to suit the circumstances of the era.

The constitution provided the fundamental basis for legislation and more than 119 laws have been promulgated so far. In addition, a number of regulations below laws have been formulated and have entered into force.

These laws and regulations have been important instruments for regulating and managing society, enabling Laos to enjoy political stability, social security, order and a high level of economic growth.

Along with the achievements and progress made so far, there are challenges hindering the state’s efforts to achieve rule of law.

Reports have emerged that a number of laws and regulations have been violated. In many cases, the violations were believed to have been done at the behest of state officials, while in some cases, the law enforcers neglected their duties. For instance, reports have emerged that more than 1,000 family-owned furniture plants were operated without business licenses across the country. Moreover, 28 large-scale sawmills operated inside and near protected forest areas, which violated the country’s laws.

These businesses were operational for several years, until Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith issued his Order No 15 in May last year for inspecting and regulating businesses using wood and timber. This resulted in the closure of 28 sawmills and hundreds of family-owned furniture plants, while many more are in the process of being closed.

It was obvious that these businesses were unlawful and law enforcers could have taken action right away, without having to wait for the Prime Minister’s order, but they failed to fulfill their responsibilities.

In other cases, there were enterprises registered as limited companies that illegally mobilised deposits for many years by luring people with incredibly high interest rates.

Collectively, these enterprises were able to secure many millions of US dollars without intervention by the state law enforcement agencies, resulting in many people being hit hard when these businesses cut their interest rates and even stopped paying the promised interest to depositors.  

The state sectors have acknowledged the problems related to these businesses from the beginning. Again, they did not take immediate action but waited until the government issued instructions for them to act. By then, however, it was difficult to deal with the issue as the companies had made huge investments and had no money to repay the depositors.

In addition, reports have emerged from time after time suggesting that foreigners continue to operate medical clinics even though local laws do not permit them to run such businesses as they are reserved for Lao nationals.

It was also reported that foreigners have rented licences issued to Lao nationals to operate medical clinics.

Authorities have announced several deadlines for shutting down such clinics – but all the deadlines have passed and many clinics continue to operate.

These are just some of the many instances of laws being violated in Laos. In several cases, the violations were obvious and the guilty parties were known, but action to bring the wrongdoers to justice was very slow.

Worse, in some cases, the law enforcers themselves were allegedly involved in violations in exchange for personal gain.All these issues have undermined the rule of law and hindered the government’s efforts to enforce laws and regulations.

Therefore, the law enforcement agencies must take proactive, decisive and strict action in a timely manner to enshrine the rule of law and to enable the Lao people to live in a society with justice and equality.

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