As Laos struggles to ensure prompt payment of state workers’ salaries, government employees in some areas are forced to spend half their working hours at private work, threatening the efficient functioning of their departments, sources say.
Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service on condition of anonymity, a community development expert based in the capital Vientiane said that government officials in the communist Southeast Asian nation cannot order their employees now to “work as usual.”
“Laos has a serious problem when government workers who play key roles in the administration do not receive their salaries on time,” RFA’s source said.
“Two years ago, some officials in the prime minister’s office did not come to work for a week, spending their time instead working outside the office to earn additional income,” he said.
“The situation in the provinces has been even worse, with state employees working for a few hours in the morning but not coming in at all during the afternoon.”
Noting that Lao prime minister Thongloun Sisoulith committed his government on Dec. 20 to promptly pay the salaries of state workers, with the finance ministry making payments if provincial governors are short of funds, RFA’s source said the government must now earn the “trust and faith” of the Lao people.
“It will be interesting to see whether these payments come out on time,” he said.
Some are paid, others wait
Salaries have meanwhile begun to be paid in some areas that had formerly fallen behind, with workers in other places still waiting for their payments to come in, Lao sources told RFA.
“Beginning in October, teachers in our school have received their salaries regularly at the end of each month,” a primary school teacher in Luang Namtha province’s Sing district said. “We were paid our December salary on Dec. 20.”
“Before this, our lives were difficult. Teachers in the rural areas had to collect forest products, grow vegetables, and feed poultry for a living, while teachers in the towns had to borrow money from others at high rates of interest,” she said.
“The government has promised us a pay raise, so we will see now if our salaries continue to come in on time.”
In southern Laos’ Attapeu province, meanwhile, teachers’ salaries are paid only once every two months, a second source said.
“Late payment of salaries has become normal in the province,” an official of Attapeu’s department of information, culture, and tourism told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“This has been happening for the last 10 years,” he said.
Corruption in projects that go uninspected is frequently to blame for delays in salary payments, a finance official working in the prime minister's office told RFA in November, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"And sometimes accountants and finance officers delay payments in order to make some profit," he said.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.