By Kyle Taylor, MIPP Graduate (2017)
Sai ba dee! I am in my third month of working at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Lao PDR Office in Vientiane. While my last two blogs have been about the current situation in Lao PDR regarding border security and drug trafficking, I would like to talk about one of the most significant hurdles to socio-economic development in the country: corruption.
A number of governance indicators reveal that corruption remains a significant obstacle to development for several countries in the Asia Pacific region. The Government of Lao PDR has identified corruption as a major governance-related risk and corruption has been identified as a priority in the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP) 2016-2020. Increases in both the flow of foreign investment and number of public-private partnership initiatives, and the development of major social-economic projects all pose probable risks of corruption, which is problematic since corruption and the illicit flow of capital divert financial resources from the national budget.
Lao PDR is one of the top 20 Least-Developed Countries (LDCs) and has one of the highest levels of illicit outflows. In Lao PDR, an estimated 14.5 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is tied to illicit financial outflows, well above an estimated average of 4.8 per cent of GDP among the ranked LDCs.
The country did ratify the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) in 2009, and it did participate in the first UNCAC cycle review process concerning Chapters three and five (criminalization, law enforcement and international cooperation). And there have been various improvements to its formal legal system since 1991. Nonetheless, rapid and uneven growth continue to create more opportunities for corruption.
I was fortunate enough to attend a three-day inter-agency training module on financial investigations in Lao PDR. At the workshop, participants learned about financial investigation methods, developed a national financial investigation toolkit, and applied their newly acquired knowledge to hypothetical corruption cases.
Outside of work, I recently celebrated the Pha That Luang festival with a few friends. Though celebrated at many temples across the country, this festival is traditionally held at Pha That Luang in Vientiane. Pha That Luang is a gold-covered large Buddhist stupa that has undergone several reconstructions over the years due to foreign invasions, and is considered to be the most sacred monument in the country. Throughout the week there were fairs, music shows, Beerlaos, and fireworks displays.
Over the course of writing these blogs, I have told you about work-related events I have attended, the progress and development of initiatives the UNODC has been working on, and the festivals that I have attended, but not much about the city I have been living in.
Laying on the banks of the Mekong River bordering Thailand, Vientiane is the economic centre of Lao PDR, the political capital, and the largest city. And although still a small city compared to others in the Asia Pacific region, it has been experiencing an influx of tourists due to its growing popularity among backpackers.
The city contains many temples and monuments. I recently visited the Patuxai, which is a war monument located in the centre of the city. The Patuxai was built in the early 1960s and is dedicated to those who fought for independence from France during the First Indochina War. Prior to the communist Pathet Lao overthrowing and seizing power from the Kingdom of Laos, the monument was called the Anosavari Monument, and was renamed Patuxai in honour of the Pathet Lao’s own victory. Visitors can climb to the top of the monument, which has one of the best views of the city landscape.
With December approaching, it will be a new and exciting experience to spend the holidays abroad. My time with UNODC is soon coming to a close, but I cannot wait to find out what my remaining time here has in store for me.