Unscrupulous Lao border guards are ignoring a government directive as they have continued to conduct business-as-usual by pocketing the fees drivers pay at border checkpoints instead of turning over most of the revenue to the government, RFA’s Lao Service has learned.
While the Lao government issued new rules earlier this year in an effort to collect the fees that should be going to the state, some border guards are collecting the money for themselves and then failing to give receipts to people passing through the checkpoints.
“The government issued the new rules to strictly collect the revenues, but the officers lack income so they set their own rules to charge the border crossing fees for vehicles, but they do not give receipts,” said a high-ranking government official who regularly passes through the check point in Luang Namtha province.
“When I ask them why there is no receipt, they do not answer,” said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The charges run from 20,000 kip (U.S. $2.46) to 30,000 kip ($3.69) for each vehicle for each crossing.
One customs officer confirmed that some border guards aren’t handing out receipts when they collect the money, but said it didn’t happen at his checkpoint.
“Our customs officers of course give the receipts to people after they pay the fees, but there are officers in other sectors who do not give them out,” said Bounheng Vikhelou, who heads a customs unit at one checkpoint.
The government issued the new rules after a new cabinet was installed earlier this year amid widespread complaints about official corruption. Under the new ruled guards are supposed to remit 70 percent of the fees to the government while they can keep the remaining 30 percent.
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith emphasized the need for more efficient government revenue collection during an August meeting with government financial officials in the capital of Vientiane, said a government source who spoke on condition of anonymity.
“Budget and expense plans have to be organized and implemented effectively,” Thongloun Sisoulith said during the National Assembly’s second ordinary session Oct. 24.
Thongloun Sisoulith has been attempting to stamp out corruption in Laos as the government attempts to get its financial house in order.
The prime minister pledged to strengthen financial and budgetary management in a bid to resolving budgetary difficulties by modernizing revenue collection methods and expanding revenue generating sources.
Meanwhile, the prime minister pledged to inspect the implementation of the budget to ensure its effectiveness and to rein in state spending.
Bribery has been a way of life for border guards in Laos and in many Asian countries for years as the guards have used the money to supplement their low pay.
The government decree requires the guards to hand over 70 percent of revenue to the government, but the officers get to keep the remaining 30 percent.
That decree has cut into the guards’ income, and caused some of them to ignore the new rules. Failing to give out receipts makes it more difficult for the government to find out who’s taking the money and makes it more difficult to get a handle on corruption.
Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Brooks Boliek.