‘Well-connected’ applicants land top jobs in Laos

Qualified candidates are passed over to make room for relatives and friends of the country’s elites, sources say.
The Lao prime minister's office building is shown in the capital Vientiane in a March 12, 2020 photo.

Top jobs in the state sector of Laos are going mainly to applicants with the right ‘connections,’ leaving better-qualified candidates out of work and prompting calls for transparency in government hiring, RFA has learned.

Documents leaked on Sept. 21 by sources in the Finance Ministry and spread on social media show that six positions in the ministry were recently filled by applicants who had powerful backers in senior government posts but had not passed exams to get their jobs.

Tests for state employment should be given fairly, with hiring standards made more clear and transparent, Lao sources told RFA in recent interviews.

“It’s not right to recruit only the sons and daughters or cousins of powerful people,” a resident of Champassak province in southern Laos told RFA, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“The government should investigate whether or not these people passed their exams, and what their level of education was when they took their exams,” he said. “They should hire only applicants who have the best qualifications and who want to serve their country.”

If the sons and daughters of high-ranking officials want to apply for government jobs, they should take and pass their exams like everybody else, and the public will then accept them without argument, the source added.

The government hiring of persons with powerful connections has been a common practice in Laos for a long time, said a source in the Lao capital Vientiane. “The prime minister has said it’s not allowed, but in reality people know this practice still continues and can’t be stopped,” he said.

“It’s hard to get a state job in Laos if you don’t have the right connections,” agreed another resident of Vientiane, saying his own brother and sister had used this system to find work after finishing school.

“You might have to wait two or three years to get a job, and then only after seeing the son or daughter of some high-ranking official get hired first. And sometimes you have to pay money to get a job,” he added.

Long waits, low salaries for jobs

Fewer Lao graduates are now interested in finding state work — not only because of favoritism in hiring but because salaries are often higher in the private sector, a source living in southern Laos’ Savannakhet province said, also declining to be named.

“This new generation doesn’t like to work for the government because the salaries are too low. They can’t feed their families. They might have to wait 2 or 3 years even to find a job, and then have to wait that long again before they’re self-sufficient,” he said.

Addressing an opening session of the 9th National Assembly of Laos on June 13, Lao Prime Minister Phanh Kham Viphavanh urged an end to the hiring of unqualified state employees based solely on family connections, calling the practice an obstacle to the country’s development.

Today's Lao elites are the offspring of leaders of the Lao People's Liberation Army, or Pathet Lao, a communist movement organized, equipped and guided by Vietnam's Communist Party that overthrew the Lao monarchy in 1975. 

The Lao People's Revolutionary Party is the only party the landlocked country of 7 million people has ever known.

Translated by Sidney Khotpanya for RFA Lao. Written in English by Richard Finney.


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