National Assembly hotline helps villagers realise their rights

Jan 31, 2017

Photo: UNDP Lao PDR/Lou Sensouphone

A telephone call to the National Assembly’s hotline allowed the 66 families of Lamong village in southern Lao PDR to receive the compensation they were entitled to by law.

In 2015, forests around Lamong village, formerly a vital source of food and livelihood for villagers, began to be cleared as part of an investment project. According to Lao legislation, villagers are entitled to compensation in the form of alternative employment, replanting of trees and social services such as better roads, connection to the power grid or new schools. This compensation, however, never materialised.  

The villagers were far from feeling discouraged. They called the National Assembly hotline, installed in 2014 to allow local communities to voice their grievances and directly communicate with their leaders. The phone call led to an investigation, resulting in an order from the National Assembly Standing Committee to provincial authorities to work with the investors to find ways of compensating for the land lost to the investment project. Additionally, local authorities and investors were directed to consult with the villagers, so that a plan for the provision of basic infrastructure and social support services to villagers could be prepared jointly.

As follow-up action, the investors improved the access road to the village and set up an electricity transmission line. Furthermore, local authorities constructed a village school and installed a pipeline to bring clean spring water into the village.

Lao PDR’s development has been vibrant during the last decade. Investments based on natural resources continue to drive economic growth, and it is important to ensure that these investments are done in a way that benefits the whole of Lao society. The Lamong village case represents a good example of how the National Assembly engages with villagers, addresses disputes and strengthens the voice of local communities.

“It is important for the government to select and approve only quality investments that take into account both efficient use of natural resources and social and environmental implications”, noted Vice Minister of Planning and Investment, Dr. Khamlien Pholsena. “The Poverty-Environment Initiative has achieved its objective of managing investments sustainably and creating environmental and social safeguard tools”.

Over the past four years, the Poverty-Environment Initiative, funded by the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation supported the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the Ministry of Natural Resource and Environment and the National Assembly in strengthening the national system for screening, approving and monitoring investments in natural resources. The initiative has shown that it is possible, through enhanced awareness and community participation, to mobilise strong political will for reducing the negative impacts of investment projects in order to reap development benefits from sustainable management of natural resources in an equitable way.

The initiative has created tools such as the Investment Compliance Database, containing general information on investments and obligations by Lao law. The aim of the online database is to monitor how investors comply with rules and regulations. Further tools created by the initiative are provincial investment strategies, environmental and social impact assessment guidelines and reviewing guidelines for involving the public in investment processes.  The products of the initiative were officially handed over to Vice Minister Dr. Khamlien by United Nations Development Programme Resident Representative, Ms. Kaarina Immonen on Tuesday this week.

2017 marks the final year for this phase of the initiative and plans are already in place for another phase to begin in 2018. The new phase will look at applying the various tools developed and upscaling across several more provinces. The government is looking for new partners interested in joining this initiative.   

“We are confident that by strengthening the capacity of government institutions in planning, budgeting, management and monitoring processes, the number of sustainable and equitable investments in Lao PDR will grow, which will help the country to move towards green growth and graduation from Least Developed Country Status,” Ms. Kaarina Immonen stated.