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

Final wrap up and showcase meeting of QDF project

By Admin

On 28 April, 2017, Village Focus International (VFI) organized the QDF (Quick Disbursement Fund) project Wrap-up and showcase workshop. The meeting was organized in outdoor zone of Village Focus International office, and presented about the consultation communication tools for improving Land Acquisition Processes in line with FPIC (Free Prior and Informed Consent) standards that was a joint effort between different civil society organisations and an agro-forestry company, and was led by VFI, Stora Enso Laos (SEL), RECOFTC Laos, LIFE Consortium. The project was supported by Mekong Region Land Governance (MRLG) project. In this meeting also opened space for attendee to discuss and ask questions to the team from VFI, RECOFTC Laos and representative from agro-forestry project, Stora Enso Laos.

15 mining projects see concessions revoked

Source: Vientiane Times,5May,2017

Fifteen mining operations have had their concessions revoked after investors failed to implement their projects as agreed after they were granted concessions by the government.
Speaking at the ongoing ordinary session of the National Assembly last week, Minister of Energy and Mines DrKhammanyInthirath said “Some companies just held [concessions without implementing them] purely in order to resell them.”
The government suspended consideration of new mining projects a few years ago, saying it wanted to take steps to better regulate the mining industry after learning that a number of projects had failed to observe the agreements they had signed with the government.
DrKhammany said his officials began carrying out inspections in 2016 and found that almost 20 mining operations were not in compliance with the agreements and stood to lose their concessions.
The findings were submitted to the Ministry of Planning and Investment, which subsequently annulled the concessions previously awarded to 15 projects.
The fate of other projects that comply poorly with agreements is currently under consideration, DrKhammany added.
As of 2016, some 657 companies had been granted permission to carry out surveys and excavation as part of 942 projects. Of these, 226 companies had been authorised by the central government to undertake 392 projects.
Since 2003, when investment in mining began, until 2016, the sale value of mineral commodities exceeded US$13 billion with almost US$2 billion in taxes and royalties paid to the government, DrKhammany said.
He added that the mining sector had boomed and generated huge revenues from 2011-2016 driven by the spiralling of commodity prices on the world market, especially gold and copper, in 2012. The sale value of mining products from 2011-2016 hit US$8.8 billion with US$1.2 billion in taxes paid. Prior to that, from 2003-2010, the sale value of mining products was just US$4.3 billion with US$688 million paid in taxes.
DrKhammany said the sale value of minerals took a dive in 2016 when commodity prices on the world market slumped, including gold and copper.
In the first nine months of 2016, the sale value was just US$964 million, generating only US$41 million in taxes.
“The sale value [of mineral products] for the whole of 2016 was less than US$100 million. The sale value depends on the market price of minerals,” DrKhammany said.

Vietnamese investment in Khammuan booming

Source: Vientiane Times
Date: May 3, 2017
By Time Reporter
http://vientianetimes.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Vietnamese.html
Over 20 new investment projects worth millions of US dollars have been proposed to Khammuan provincial authorities by Vietnamese entrepreneurs, pending official approval.
A senior official from the Khammuan provincial Department of Planning and Investment, MrXaysanaKhotphouthone, told Vientiane Times yesterday that Vietnamese investment is booming in Khammuan, notably in the mining sector.
“The 20 new proposals submitted by Vietnamese investors are mega projects worth millions of dollars and we are considering various aspects of their proposals, particularly funding,” MrXaysana said.
“There are two main reasons why Vietnamese are coming to invest here. One is that Khammuan has abundant mineral resources including potassium, lead and gold. The second is that Laos and Vietnam are neighbours, which makes the import-export process easier.” 
Vietnam is currently ranked the second largest foreign investor in Khammuan after China. So far, 19 investment projects worth over US$500 million have been carried out by the Vietnamese. 
Most of their investments are in the mining sector, particularly the excavation of potassium, lead and other minerals.
However, timber for export is one sector that has become unpopular since the province enforced the Prime Minister’s Order No. 15 issued on May 13. The order bans the export of all types of unfinished wood products including timber and logs, and is considered a significant move in the battle to clamp down on the illicit timber trade.
While the mining sector is increasingly popular among foreign investors in the province, agriculture has not grown as anticipated with only a few investors building factories to process crops for export.
Critics say it’s vital to create more favourable conditions and incentives to increase investment and exports in the agriculture sector as this would drive economic growth in the long run since minerals will one day be exhausted. 
In the recent past, investment from Vietnam decreased slightly as many entrepreneurs encountered financial difficulties, affecting the sector.
During the first visit made by Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen XuanPhuc last week in response to an invitation from his Lao counterpart MrThonglounSisoulith, the two premiers witnessed the signing of nine agreements.
One of those agreements was the signing of the VungAng seaport development joint venture in Vietnam’s central Ha Tinh province.
Deputy Head of the Khammuan provincial Administrative Office, MrVannavongVongphachanh, said minerals from Khammuan were mainly exported through the VungAng port to Vietnam and China.
This is the shortest route to a seaport from Laos. Since the opening of the third Friendship Bridge in November 2011, linking Thakhaek district in Khammuan province to Thailand’s NakhonPhanom province across the Mekong, more goods have been transported along this route.

Gov’t to get tough with dishonest land concession holders

Source: Vientiane Times, April 28, 2017
http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Govtto.html
The government will use tougher measures to regulate concession projects by withdrawing land if no progress is made on the proposed project, while also pushing for authorities at various levels to participate in the process.
ThatlungSEZ
Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith on behalf of the government made the promise yesterday in response to National Assembly (NA) members’ queries concerning issues surrounding land concessions, which were raised at the ongoing debate session.
The government acknowledged that many concession projects have been awarded, but investors often did not fulfill their obligations with regard to the contract and relevant laws. Many acquired land for the purpose of handing it over to other investors, thereby making a profit.
“If an investor who has been given a concession is found not to proceed with the stated project in the time frame agreed, I ask local authorities to actively investigate and report their findings to the government,” Prime Minister Thongloun said.
He urged the relevant ministries to urgently take action when they received a report indicating possible misconduct.
The issue of investors refusing to obey the requests of local authorities was also raised by Assembly members. In response, Mr Thongloun said concession deals and other development project agreements made at the central or local level must be signed off by local authorities.
Also up for discussion was encroachment onto state land by investors in addition to the land area stated in the concession contract.
“In this case, local authorities have the right to use measures directly to prevent encroachment at the first stage before it continues any further. The authorities should not wait for orders from the government,” Mr Thongloun said. “If local authorities are unable to influence the situation, please inform the related sector or ministry so they can deal with the matter,” he added.
Taking possession of land without putting it to good use not only delays the country’s development but denies other developers the opportunity to use land productively.
“If land is handed over and no development takes place, it will be withdrawn. I want the business sector to understand this,” the prime minister said.
“Effective investment and the implementation of development projects that follow the law will help to strengthen the economy,” he added, noting that the government would not allow a monopoly in investment, but supported competition.
Mr Thongloun told Assembly members that the government had carried out a study on the positives and negatives of the Law on Land, saying a lot of shortcomings were uncovered.
The government is improving its policies before submitting them to the Politburo, which is expected to propose a resolution by the Party Central Committee in order to tackle the issues surrounding land use, according to Mr Thongloun.

Chinese company to build modern agricultural industrial park in Laos

Source: Xinhua, 26/4/2017
http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/2017-04/26/c_136236572.htm
VIENTIANE, April 26 (Xinhua) — Lao Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with China’s Xuanye (Lao) Co., Ltd/AVIC International Beijing Co., Ltd on a modern agricultural industrial park project in Laos.
The agricultural industrial park will serve as a supporting project to the under-construction China-Laos railway, building a regional center of agricultural products trading, warehousing and logistics hub platform.
Speaking at the signing ceremony on Tuesday, Lao Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Lien Thikeo said since the launching of the Chinese-proposed Belt and Road Initiative, many Chinese enterprises have come to invest in Laos with constructive proposals, providing new impetus and direction of development to Laos to turn the country from a land-locked to a land-linked country.
The ministry is expected to cooperate with Xuanye to build a demonstration of modern agricultural industrial park in Laos, with the construction of the China-Laos railway to deepen bilateral trade cooperation and accelerate the transformation of Lao agricultural sector.
Previously, local government of Lao central Savannakhet province signed an agreement with Xuanye on a 2,000-hectare plantation demonstration.
After over two years, the demonstrative plantation zone is helping export Lao rice to China, and through the implementation of Chinese standards and technology, the farmers are changing the habit of slash-and-burn cultivation with low yield while maintaining the “green and organic” characteristics of Lao rice.
Chairman of Xuanye (Lao) Co., Ltd Xu Guowu said that the Belt and Road Initiative has refreshed the China-Laos cooperation with a new international cooperation platform, helping many developing and under-developed countries to enter the “fast lane” of development.
Both sides will conduct research later mainly on China’s agricultural technology and its market demand for Laos’ organic eco-agricultural products, technology innovation cooperation in Laos.

Lao companies to benefit from railway project: Officials

Source: Vientiane Times,April 21, 2017

http://www.vientianetimes.org.la/FreeContent/FreeConten_Laocompanies.htm
Officials in charge have confirmed that Lao construction companies will benefit from the almost-US$6 billion railway project linking Vientiane to the Chinese border.

Director of the Laos-China Railway construction project and Director of the Lao National Railway Company, Dr Koung Souk-Aloun, told Vientiane Times on Wednesday that a list of 59 companies has been submitted to the Chinese side for selection.

�We have sent them [the Chinese side] 59 companies, not 20 companies. The selection process is underway and hopefully Lao companies will be hired to undertake some of the work on the railroad project,� he said.

Xayaboury to Halt Banana Plantations mid This Year

The northern province of Xayaboury has decided that as of mid-this year, no more Chinese investments in banana plantations will be allowed. Currently, there are over 520 ha of banana plantations in the province.

Chinese banana plantation investments are suspected as the cause of several problems including the over-use of chemical fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides which have failed to comply with required standards, thus affecting local communities and the environment.

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