Financial compensation plans for Lao residents displaced by a high-speed railway linking the country with China have been finalized and are being reviewed by provincial authorities, with two provinces already approving their terms, Lao sources say.
The People’s Councils of Luang Namtha and Vientiane provinces have already approved the compensation packages, Rattanamany Khounnivong, deputy minister at the Lao Ministry of Public Works and Transport, told RFA’s Lao Service.
“Three other councils in Oudomxay and Luang Prabang provinces and in the capital Vientiane are now reviewing them for approval,” he said.
“And once everything is set, my ministry and the Finance Ministry will begin making payment to affected villagers right away,” Rattanamany said, while declining to provide details of the amounts offered to offset residents’ losses of homes, land and livelihoods.
Under Lao Decree 84 issued in April 2016, Lao citizens losing land to development projects must be compensated for lost income, property, crops, and plants. And project owners must guarantee that living conditions for those displaced will be as good as, or better than, they were before the project began.
More than 4,400 families, some of whom have already been moved from their land, are now waiting for compensation originally promised to them by November, sources said.
“It’s already the end of the year, and it’s still quiet,” one Luang Prabang resident still living on his land told RFA at the end of December. “We haven’t heard anything yet, and we need compensation to be paid as soon as possible.”
Concerns over transparency
Also speaking to RFA, other sources voiced concerns over lack of transparency in the payment process.
“Of course I worry about compensation,” a resident of Nong Vieng Kham Village in the capital, Vientiane, said.
“I don’t want there to be any leaks [of the funds], and I don’t want any ‘middle men’ to be involved,” RFA’s source said, speaking like the others interviewed on condition of anonymity.
“If the government pays us $500 per square meter, I want to receive $500--not $200 or $300,” he said.
Meanwhile, a resident of Vientiane’s Ban Nathom village expressed confidence in the payment process.
“I think the process will be transparent and the payments will be fair,” the source said, noting that compensation had been paid fairly in the past in projects building the Lao National Assembly Building and a road leading to an important Buddhist religious monument.
First scheduled for completion by 2015, plans now call for work on the railway to end in 2021, with Chinese companies promising completion by that date despite the challenges of boring tunnels in mountainous areas of the country’s north.
Landlocked Laos expects the planned railway to lower the cost of exports and consumer goods while boosting socioeconomic development in the impoverished nation of nearly 7 million people.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.