A Lao government official in charge of transportation in the landlocked nation has started ordering independent inspections of road construction projects to lower their costs in an effort to reduce pervasive corruption.
The high costs and substandard quality of road construction and renovation projects stem from corruption, said Minister of Public Works and Transport Bounchanh Sinthavong in response to heavy public criticism about the exorbitant prices and slow pace of three thoroughfare upgrade projects.
“Road construction [projects] have problems with corruption and generate public complaints because highways and urban roads are not up to standard, based on their costs and construction methods,” he said on a television program that the ministry produces.
Bounchanh also said he was able to obtain much lower cost estimates for current road projects after assigning independent technicians to inspect them.
“We have inspected road construction in some provinces, for example, which costs U.S. $1.6 million per kilometer [one kilometer = 0.621 mile],” he said on the program that aired on Oct. 22.
“I assigned officials to do the inspection to recalculate the costs, and then we were able to reduce it to U.S. $800,000 per kilometer,” he said. “To do the inspection, I assigned independent technicians to complete a survey to get an exact price quotation.”
The ministry, which is funding three road construction projects with cost overruns, has been able to reduce their total cost by U.S. $26 million to reduce corrupt practices, he said.
The ministry’s half-hour TV program “Public Works for People” first aired on Sept. 26 in response to public concerns and complaints about road construction projects. It is broadcast every Saturday and Sunday.
On the program, Bounchanh has encouraged comments from the public, media and other sectors whenever they detect problems with road projects and inappropriate activities by road construction companies or officials, so the ministry can step in.
The ministry will hold more discussions on this issue with officials at Vientiane’s Public Works and Transportation Department and relevant departments at the provincial level to make project costs transparent and improve technical standards, he said.
Road construction and renovation in Laos are usually plagued by corruption with exorbitant costs for substandard quality that becomes apparent only after completion, sources previously have told RFA.
Both urban and rural Lao residents suffer from terrible roads conditions with flooding during the rainy season and excessively dusty air from dirt roads during the dry season.
Many road construction projects in Laos lack transparency, and high-ranking officials are known to use state funding to build roads to their own homes, sources have said.
In addition, some of their family members have gotten involved in road construction, driving up the cost of the projects so they themselves can profit.
In September, for example, the government selected a new company to upgrade a major thoroughfare in the capital Vientiane, after the firm had submitted an estimate that was lower than one quoted by a Chinese company believed to have ties to the country’s national leaders.
The survey conducted by Chinese firm The Third Railway Survey and Design Institute Group Corporation (TSDI) estimated the cost of upgrade work on a road connecting Laos National University’s Dongdok campus to Route 13 North at U.S. $80 million — four times more than similar projects, according to one expert.
But Vientiane’s Public Works and Transportation Department, which is responsible for the Dongdok-Sikeuth road project, picked the other company to upgrade the nine-kilometer (5.6-mile) long, nearly 30-meter (98-foot) wide road, for U.S. $54 million.
Reported by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.