The historical evolution of Laos created identifiable layers of bureaucratic behavior. Traditional royal customs and Buddhist practices set the foundation. Next, there was an overlay of French influence, the product of colonial rule from 1890 to 1954. During this period, several generations of Laotian bureaucrats were trained and often placed in subordinate rank to French-imported Vietnamese civil servants. The administration used French as the official language and followed French colonial administrative practices. From 1954 to 1975, there was an increase in United States influence, and the United States provided training and educational opportunities for future bureaucrats as well as employment in United States agencies. Because of its brevity, however, the United States impact was far less pervasive than the French.
When the communists seized power in 1975, a new layer of bureaucrats--strongly influenced by North Vietnam and the Soviet Union and its allies--was added. Many of the French-trained and United States-influenced bureaucrats fled across the Mekong River. Of those who stayed, perhaps 10,000 to 15,000 were sent to seminar camps or reeducation centers. The few Westerntrained bureaucrats who remained possessed French- or Englishlanguage skills and the technical competence needed to deal effectively with the Western foreign aid donors so critical to the economy. The Western-trained bureaucrats were essential because not many of the new revolutionary cadres who moved into key positions of bureaucratic authority had much formal education, knowledge of a foreign language, or competence in the technical and managerial skills necessary to run a national economy. The few cadres in each ministry who were capable of managing the economy were often unavailable because there were so many demands for their services: for example, meeting with visiting foreign delegations, traveling to international meetings, and attending political training sessions.
Since its inception, the LPDR bureaucracy has been lethargic and discouraged individual initiative. It has been dangerous to take unorthodox positions. Some officials have been arrested on suspicion of corruption or ideological deviation: for example, "pro-Chinese" sentiment. Initiative has been further constrained by the lack of legal safeguards, formal trial procedures, and an organized system of appeal. The beginnings of a penal code, which the SPA endorsed in 1989, and the promulgation of a constitution in 1991, however, may solidify the system of justice and provide a clear definition as to what constitutes a crime against socialist morality, the party, or the state.
The lethargy of the bureaucracy is understandable within the cultural context of Laos. As a peasant society at the lower end of the modernization scale, the LPDR has adopted few of the work routines associated with modern administration. Foreign aid administrators frequently point out that Laotian administrators have difficulty creating patterns or precedents, or learning from experience. Laotians are known for their light-hearted, easy-going manner. This bo pinh nyang (never mind--don't worry about it) attitude is reflected in the languid pace of administration. Official corruption has also been acknowledged as problematic.
Kaysone acknowledged the bureaucracy's low level of competence. In his report to the Fourth Party Congress in 1986, he chided those in authority who gave "preference only to (their friends) or those from the same locality or race; paying attention to only their birth origin, habits and one particular sphere of education." Patronage is but one area that has come under scrutiny and resulted in admonishments to strengthen inspection and control. Kaysone further railed against "dogmatism, privatism, racial narrowmindedness , regionalism and localism."
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