Laos’ State Inspection Authority (SIA) has discovered that more than 2.24 trillion kip ($216 million) has been lost in incidents involving corruption, following investigations conducted over the past year.

The authority said a huge amount of money had been misappropriated, consisting of 1.86 trillion kip, $24.88 million and 384.81 million Thai baht ($11.6 million).

State inspectors investigated 39 targets, especially state-funded development projects, SIA president Dr Khamphanh Phommathat told the National Assembly on November 5.

Of the total lost to corrupt officials who embezzled state assets, authorities have so far retrieved 331.71 billion kip and have pledged to recover the remaining 1.9 trillion kip.

Dr Khamphanh outlined the challenges to recouping money pocketed by corrupt officials, saying most had been spent or concealed.

The SIA also identified 183 state-funded projects that had been overpriced, with the cost of construction of these projects being 20 per cent higher than the price estimated by the sectors involved.

Dr Khamphanh said overpricing of these projects amounted to more than 3.12 trillion kip, so the government bodies concerned would re-negotiate the cost with contractors to ensure that state was charged a fair price.

The authority was also assigned to examine 12 special economic zones but has been able to inspect only one zone because of the Covid-19 outbreak.

Dr Khamphanh said his inspectors had also investigated state banks and found that some had not issued loans to target customers.

Some bankers assessed the value of assets used as surety by individuals requesting loans as very high or even higher than the market price of their assets.

One of the main reasons for this is because bank officials sometimes accept bribes before giving entrepreneurs loans, but the result of this is that the bank is unable to recover the loan principal, resulting in even more non-performing loans.

In addition, state inspectors were assigned to probe the payment of taxes by 26 fuel companies.

“We have inspected the operations of 11 companies and found that 186.19 billion kip, including fines, had not been paid to the government,” Dr Khamphanh said.

Authorities have prosecuted 24 officials, including some employed by state enterprises, on charges of embezzling state funds.

Dr Khamphanh said state inspectors also identified a number of unauthorised projects and projects that had been carried out without going through competitive bidding. However, the number of these projects declined in 2021 compared to the previous year.

Several state-funded projects did not comply with all the procedures stipulated by law, he added, especially bypassing the bidding process, resulting in huge losses to the state budget.