VIENTIANE — Latter day communist countries still carry the legacies of their past. Somewhat secretive and sensitive to criticism, authorities in one-party states tend to hide at the slightest hint of criticism. It’s a routine in East Asia that is as common in Laos as it has been in Vietnam, China, or even North Korea.
But more recently the government of Thongsing Thammavong in Laos has been making some very different noises. His government has lashed-out at the faceless bureaucrats behind the nation’s dilapidated health services, a bungling judiciary, and even the state-controlled press.
That was highlighted at a recent two-day meeting of officials from the Information Ministry when he complained about journalistic standards, adding the delivery of information was limited and failed to reflect the realities of life.
Editors and reporters bore the brunt of the criticism amid complaints they were untrained and that success was measured by how many stories they churned out as opposed to the quality of those reports.
This included complaints that the official press had failed “to counter incorrect reports circulated by hostile groups that aim to tarnish” government policies. It was seen as a reference to growing regional opposition to the US$3.8 billion Xayaburi Dam that Laos is building on the Mekong River.
Hinting that reforms were on the agenda, Thongsing also said according to the state-run Vientiane Times, “The quality of work in the field of information is not good enough … There is little new information that readers can learn from media outlets.”
Editors took this to heart, running further front page commentaries from the Prime Minister.
Among them, Thongsing complained there were limits to Lao’s health care in terms of equipment and specialists, the sector was far behind development targets and in some cases medics were dictated by “poor ideology, ethics, morals and honesty.”
He then launched into a tirade against the country’s judicial and legal system.
Lawyers have not behaved responsibility, he said, and had “been engaged in boasting practices and leading extravagant lifestyles, too lazy even to study to improve themselves”. He added civil servants, soldiers and policemen did not have a proper understanding of the laws.
Delivery of his message was clumsy at best but rarely do leaders of such countries publicly criticize their own ministries and bureaucracies responsible for the state press, health, and the judiciary.
Suspicions among seasoned Laos watchers is that change is coming.