Members of the Lao National Assembly openly criticized corruption in the country’s judiciary and political system in comments made during a meeting of the normally pliant legislative body this month.
In remarks broadcast on June 14, one member after another pointed to cases of bribery, lenient judicial treatment of corrupt officials, and political interference in decisions by the courts.
“In most cases, the courts will make the right decision,” said Phoumy Vandyxay, a member of the Assembly from Xaysomboun province in the central part of the country. “But in some cases, the court will easily change its decision.”
“For example, at first the court will make a judgment, and then the accused will get a letter [in his favor] from some powerful official, and then the court will make another decision in the case,” he said, adding that judgments will sometimes go “back and forth” in this way.
Cases are also sometimes held up in the courts by court officials seeking bribes, Somxay Sihachack, an Assembly member from southwestern Laos’s Champassak province.
“They will ask for ‘favors’ [bribes] from the accused, and if no favors are forthcoming, the cases will be endlessly delayed,” he said.
“Punishments for government workers who break the law are also ineffective. In fact, they are not strict at all,” added Amphaivone Lombounpheng, a member of the Assembly from Houapanh province in the eastern part of Laos.
Last year, 54 officials from her own province alone violated Lao laws against taking bribes, misusing state funds, or abusing their power to award contracts, Amphaivone said, adding that none were sent to jail for their crimes.
“So far, they have only been demoted, removed from their posts, or given warnings.”
“This is not the way to solve our problems,” she said.
Also in remarks made to the Assembly, Lao attorney general Sane Souvong said that all legal cases are carefully handled by his department before sending them to trial. “We make sure that all necessary steps are taken to investigate cases fully and fairly before they go to the courts.”
“We are diligent in our work, and we consider that all cases are important without discriminating among them,” he said.
Laws not fully enforced
Speaking to RFA on June 14, several Lao citizens pointed to what they called inefficiency and corruption pervading the legal system of the one-party Southeast Asian country.
“The system is full of corruption,” one young man in the Pek district of northeastern Laos’s Xieng Khouang province said. “The authorities don’t really do their job, and the laws that we have are not fully enforced.”
“For example, the law controlling alcoholic beverages is not being well enforced,” he said.
Also speaking to RFA, a woman in the Hinboun district of central Laos’s Khammouane province said that she had once sold valuable livestock to pay district police officers to secure her son’s release from a charge of selling drugs.
“Courts in Laos are not just, because they are not independent. They accept kickbacks under the table,” a businessmen in the capital Vientiane said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“In really big cases, thousands of dollars might have to be paid for a defendant to win a favorable decision,” he said.
Meanwhile, in cases of fraud or other crimes committed by state officials, “people have no confidence in judges or the court system in Laos,” one Lao lawyer said, also speaking on condition that his name not be used.
Lao courts still work under the authority of the country’s central government, and it is not the practice of central authorities to prosecute state officials under the country’s laws, he said.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya and Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.