Proposed Lao Curbs on NGOs Seen as Choking Development Projects

laos-map-305.jpg A map showing Laos.

The Lao government’s changes to regulations on domestic nonprofit associations will hinder the work of the groups and slow down development projects in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation, an NGO official said Friday.

The Ministry of Home Affairs has been amending the decree on nonprofit associations (NPAs) and foundations since early last year by adding a requirement that the groups must notify or obtain permission from relevant ministries for funding they receive from foreign sources.

If a foreign donor provides 50 million-100 million kip (U.S. $6,150-12,300), for instance, it would have to notify the relevant ministries for approval, said the NGO official, who requested anonymity.

“It will take time before it [the donation] is approved,” he said. “Then it will delay [related] programs by slowing them down, so that donors might withdraw their funding.”

The NGO official also pointed out that the paperwork required for donations and projects would become more complicated because NPAs would have to obtain sign-offs from relevant ministries, such as Ministry of Home Affairs, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Finance.

They NPAs would likely have to pay bribes to officials in order to get the necessary approvals, he said.

“It means that projects will not receive the full amount of donation funds, which will affect the quality of the projects,” he said, adding that this already is a regular occurrence.

The revised decree would affect small community projects by delaying them by a year or 18 months because of the additional government interference, the NGO official said.

“It will not allow us to work freely,” he said. “This kind of work must be free. If the ministries interfere, if the government interferes, we will be unable to perform to the fullest of our ability because we want to work as we have planned.”

Officials from the Ministry of Home Affairs discussed the changes to the decree with representatives from NPAs and foundations late last month in the capital Vientiane.

They talked about guidelines for international donor organizations and amendments to the decree, the NGO official said.

Officials at the meeting concluded that the ministry would implement the decree on the nonprofit associations at the end of 2015.

Regulations and restrictions

The authoritarian Lao government issued the original decree in April 2009 to regulate Lao nonprofit organizations.

When it went into effect in November of that year, it authorized public administration authorities and relevant ministries to register and monitor all NPAs in the country.

Last November, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) urged civil society organizations in Laos to be closely involved in the debate over changes to rules that could limit their ability to operate in the country.

The government also moved to restrict the operations of international NGOs by requiring multiple and time-consuming approvals for projects.

In June 2014, the foreign ministry proposed changes to a January 2010 decree regulating international NGOs by requiring them to obtain the ministry’s approval for project proposals, foreign staff and the establishment of offices in Laos.

The changes also required the organizations to submit progress and financial reports for their projects at regular intervals.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Bounchanh Mouangkham. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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