Addressing the opening of the Lao National Assembly (NA) on November 1, Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh told members that Laos needs to consider the steps to take to reopen the country, including the start of services on the Laos-China railway.
The NA’s 9th legislature began its second ordinary session with a debate on ways to deal with the Covid-19 outbreak and revitalise the economy, which has been severely impacted by the pandemic.
NA president Dr Xaysomphone Phomvihane declared the session open and gave the floor to Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh to outline the socio-economic development plan for 2022, which seeks to address the country’s financial and economic difficulties.
Among those attending the opening session were President and Lao People’s Revolutionary Party (LPRP) General Secretary Thongloun Sisoulith and other senior state and LPRP leaders.
In his address, Phankham said the government needs to set out a strategic plan on comprehensive preparations to open up the country, including the start of railway services.
Laos and China have agreed to inaugurate the Laos-China railway on December 2.
International experts say the Covid-19 pandemic is likely to continue and that more potent variants of the virus could develop. This makes it essential to immunise as many people as possible.
The government expects to vaccinate at least 70 per cent of the adult population by the end of 2021 – a figure that exceeds the original target of 50 per cent.
So far, more than 3.28 million people have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, accounting for 44.78 per cent of the total, while more than 2.8 million people or 38.38 per cent are now fully vaccinated.
Outlining the main features of the 2022 development plan, the prime minister said his administration would continue to promote local and foreign private investment in order to finance large-scale projects such as expressways, trade centres, industrial parks, tourist attractions and hotels.
Phankham promised to make breakthroughs in the development of a digital economy and do more to promote commercial-scale production and services, as well as bolster exports and imports.
The premier again pledged to take action to reform state enterprises, saying that most operate inefficiently.
Over past years, every government administration has invested heavily in state enterprises, hoping they would become a main source of revenue and key drivers of the economy.
“In fact, most state enterprises have performed poorly. Some [enterprises] have accumulated enormous debts, placing an added burden on the government,” the premier said.
He added that the reform of state enterprises was “an important and urgent task”.
Phankham promised that the government would accelerate modernisation of the revenue collection system in order to maximise revenue collection and prevent the loss of money owed to the state.
The government also pledged to streamline the registration of businesses to make the system more efficient.
In addition, the prime minister told the NA that a taskforce had been formed to address public debt and create a debt payment plan until 2025.
He underlined the need to address currency value fluctuations, which have arisen due to chronic budget and trade deficits, high level of debt, limited reserves, a lack of liquidity among local banks, and imbalances in the demand and supply of currency.
The government projects a three per cent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) – less than the target of four per cent previously approved by the NA.
The ongoing NA session will continue until November 17. Issues tabled for debate included the progress made in fulfilling the socio-economic development and budget plans for 2021, and plans for 2022.
Reports on plans for hydropower development from 2021-2030 and development plans for the hydroelectricity and mining sectors from 2021-2025 are also scheduled for presentation.
The government will also deliver its 20-year Vision (2021-2040), 10-year Strategy (2021-2030) and national digital economic development plan for 2021-2025. Amendments to seven laws — on government, state budget, enactment of legislation, judgment enforcement, tobacco control, telecommunications, and national heritage will be debated.
Four draft laws — on land vehicles, surveying and mapping, national borders, and high-tech development will also be debated and approved by NA members.
VIENTIANE TIMES/ASIA NEWS NETWORK