Laos will no longer allow high-ranking government officials to use state-owned vehicles for personal use after they retire, a move aimed at saving money and solving a vehicle shortage that Lao citizens told RFA was a step in the right direction.
“We cannot take the state cars with us after we retire. It’s not allowed. High-ranking officials who have retired will have to sacrifice, starting from the central committee and downward,” Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh told a recent meeting of the national assembly.
“Once you retire, you’re retired and you can’t take the state’s car with you. But if you want to take it you should pay for it according to the law,” he said.
The push to rein in spending comes amid warnings from experts and officials that Laos has at least $400 million due in loans this year that can’t be repaid, and another $1 billion coming due each year from 2022-2025 to lenders in China, Thailand and Vietnam, amid a slump brought on the global pandemic.
Several Lao citizens told RFA that they were happy that the government was trying to eliminate wasteful spending.
“If they do this, I will be very happy, because the government wastes too much. Taking the state cars with them when they retire wastes the people’s money. They should just give the cars to another official instead of buying a totally new one,” a Lao citizen told RFA’s Lao Service.
Another citizen told RFA that the problem had been rampant among Lao officials. Some of the retiring officials even took two or more vehicles for their family members to use.
A former official who kept his government-issued vehicle after retirement told RFA that in some cases, the government awarded them cars for helping the country, but in others, the former officials took them out of a sense of entitlement.
“There were many officials who took cars worth over U.S. $100,000 with them when they retired, saying that they deserve the car for helping the country become developed,” the former official said.
The previous prime minister, Thongloun Sisoulith, who championed anti-corruption policies, famously sold 14 government-issued luxury cars used by retiring officials in 2016.
Among the cars were expensive imported Mercedes-Benz and BMW models that are beyond the means of ordinary citizens of Laos, whose GDP per capita is about $2,600 per year.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Sidney Khotpanya. Written in English by Eugene Whong.