Sports competitions scheduled for November in Xiengkhouang province in northeastern Laos have been postponed amid concerns over possible corruption in the awarding of contracts for construction in preparation for the event, Lao sources say.
The games, set to be held over a two-week period and drawing participants from around the country, have now been suspended until November 2019 by order of Prime Minister Thongloun Sisolith, an official of the central government's state inspections authority told RFA's Laos Service this week.
"The reason is that there have been problems with transparency in building the infrastructure needed to accommodate the games," RFA's source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
"Investigators are now looking at 15 specific targets inside government departments in the province who are suspected of corruption," the official said, adding that the games were also postponed because Laos has recently faced problems with natural disasters, including landslides and flooding.
Also speaking to RFA, an official in the province's sports department denied allegations of corruption in the selection of firms given contracts to renovate existing sports facilities or build new ones in Xiengkhouang.
"There is no problem with corruption here, because all authorizations require the signatures of many separate officials," the official said, also speaking on condition he not be named.
"This process has been completely transparent," he said.
In 2014, the Lao government granted concessions to private firms to build roads in Oudomxay province in northern Laos to support the country's 10th National Sports Games, which were held in December, a Lao source told RFA in an earlier report.
And though those roads were never built, the contracting firms later converted bonds issued in promise of future payment into cash with the help of "commission" fees paid to finance ministry officials, the source said.
The scheme caused losses to the state budget of over U.S. $36 million, with little chance that the money would ever be recovered, he added.
Corruption among high-level officials in Laos has been so widespread that it has deterred foreign investors, created problems with the country's ability to enforce business contracts and regulations, and left many ordinary citizens frustrated and impoverished, sources say.
In 2017, Laos ranked 135 out of 180 countries on corruption in the nongovernmental organization Transparency International's corruption perception index, which scores nations on how corrupt their public sectors are perceived to be.
Reported by RFA's Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Richard Finney.
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