Working towards greater community control over land, forests and natural resources

NA identifies problems in natural resource sector

Vientiane Times, 23 August 2014

The National Assembly (NA) has highlighted that many foreign investment projects working in the natural resource sector are not operating in accordance with the law and NA officials need to educate themselves on the issues to better address problems with projects. Vice Chairperson of the NA Economic, Planning and Finance Committee Dr Bouakham Thippavong was addressing a training workshop on the “Process of National Planning, Public and Private Investment Approvals and Environmental and Social Impact Assessments” in Vientiane last week.

She said the NA observed that Laos has approved many projects particularly those related to mining, hydropower, industrial tree plantations and agriculture sectors, with some of these investments not operating in accordance to the laws and regulations of the country.

The NA is a state power which is directly elected by the citizens of Laos. Its role is to represent the rights, powers and interests of the country’s multi-ethnic people. The parliament plays an important role in making decisions on fundamental issues affecting the country as well as overseeing the performance of the executive branch, the prosecutor’s office, and the people’s court.

Dr Bouakham said it is important assembly technical staff and constituencies build their knowledge on the investment approval process, compliance measures as well as the potential impacts of investments to help the NA address such concerns.

Co chair of the workshop as part of the UNDP – UNEP Poverty Environment Initiative, Deputy Resident Representative of UNDP Ms Azusa Kubota, emphasised the efforts of UNDP in helping Laos become a resilient country. “This year’s UNDP global human development report, titled Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience, states that achieving human development is one thing, but sustaining it is another. This requires evidence-based and consistent policy interventions to ensure environmental sustainability and equal distribution of prosperity,” she said. “Investments of any sort have tremendous development potential for the government and people of Lao PDR, and therefore, policy interventions should aim to make global and regional integration of the economy work for all.”

Laos has realised impressive economic growth of over 7 percent annual GDP growth and almost halved poverty rates during the past two decades. Economic growth is driven largely by high inflows of foreign direct investment (FDI), mainly into the natural resource sectors. The country aims to accomplish the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) by 2015, and substantive progress towards the graduation from Least Developed Country (LDC) status by 2020.

These commendable and ambitious goals present both opportunities and challenges as the natural resource-based growth inevitably increases the pressure on valuable environmental assets and requires careful policy interventions to protect traditional livelihoods.

The workshop provided the NA with a much deeper understanding of investment approvals and management processes in Laos. During the two day training session, NA staff was also given the opportunity to share their experiences on the management of investments with the technical ministries. At the end of the workshop, participants urged the organisers to support further technical workshops related to improving the quality of investments Laos.

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