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Cablegate: Lao Officials Prepare to Issue Decree On

DE RUEHVN #0465/01 2390330
R 260330Z AUG 08



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: The Lao Public Administration and Civil
Service Authority (PACSA) is currently drafting a new decree
on non-profit association (NPA) registration. The decree is
expected to be submitted to the Prime Minister,s Office by
the end of August. The creation of a standardized legal
basis for non-profit associations is virtually unprecedented
in Laos, and this decree has implications for the longer term
development of Lao civil society. Civil society in Laos may
be described as nascent at best, at least by Western
standards; even quasi-independent associations have strong
government linkages, and the requisites of civil society,
namely guaranteed freedom of association, expression, and
media, are not present. While the current draft of the NPA
decree includes codification of a high degree of governmental
control of NPAs, creating a legal basis for associations of
this type will have the potential to create a more open Lao
civil society in the future. End Summary.

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2. (SBU) GOL and local organization leaders prefer the term
&non-profit association8 (NPA) to describe homegrown groups
as opposed to &non-governmental organization,8 which is the
term applied to foreign organizations working in Laos.
Indeed, the former term is more accurate, for the 30
existing Lao NPAs are small, local, and voluntary in nature,
and often are supervised and sponsored by a GOL or party
organ. They primarily focus on development issues, such as
sustainable agriculture and anti-poverty platforms. Support
and permission of the village and district authorities is
necessary in order for an NPA to form and operate. Though
the involvement of the state in the day-to-day affairs of an
association is in practice often minimal, the power of the
state to intervene or to dissolve an association looms large
in the minds of NPA leaders. Their notions of advocacy
stress information dissemination rather than lobbying for
change, and their projects tend to emphasize service delivery
and capacity development rather than overt mobilization for
social or political change, though there are a few
exceptions. Moreover, NPAs in Laos face challenges of low
capacity and the lack of funding opportunities.

3. (U) While it is possible for NPAs to register in Laos,
there is currently no clear and standardized procedure for
doing so. For more than a decade, some NPAs have been able
to register with a mass party organization, most frequently
the Lao Front for National Construction (LFNC), and some
others with a related ministry, such as the Ministry of
Education. In March 2005 the GOL issued the Decree on the
Establishment and Operation of the Lao Union of Science and
Engineering Association, known as the LUSEA decree, which
also permitted the official formation and registration of
science and environment-related NPAs. This led to a spurt of
registration, resulting in twenty-two organizations
registering under the umbrella of the LUSEA decree. Even
more were attempting to do so when the GOL suspended LUSEA in
late 2006. Citing the need for a standardized NPA
registration procedure, the Public Administration and Civil
Service Authority (PACSA) department of the Prime Minister's
Office began drafting a decree for this purpose in 2007 with
the help of UNDP.

4. (SBU) PACSA is the implementing partner of a joint
GOL-UNDP two-year civil society project funded by UNDP. The
project aims to &enhance government partnership with social
organizations to deliver services in the public interest
towards poverty reduction.8 UNDP identified a lack of
awareness among legislators and government officials as to
the relevance, importance, and contribution of non-profit
association to the development of the nation as well as an
absence of a legal and regulatory framework for such
organizations. The joint project includes national
sensitization workshops on engaging with NPAs as partners in
development and the development, support, and finalization of
the decree on NPA registration, as well as implementing
guidelines. NPAs have been included in sensitization
workshops and appear to have been able to give limited input
on the draft decree. The drafting process has received some
media attention.

5. (SBU) The decree drafting process appears to be picking
up momentum and embassy sources say it will be submitted to
the Prime Minister by the end of August. As conceived, the
decree shifts the power and control of NPA registration to
PACSA and away from mass organizations such as the LFNC,
which has had experience working with associations since the
late 1990s; there are already questions about the capacity of
PACSA to take on this new task in the face of probable
pent-up demand since LUSEA was suspended. In addition to
concerns about administrative capacity, the length of the
registration process is daunting. The current version of the
decree codifies a high level of government control over
association by requiring multiple rounds of approval before

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registration is finalized. Moreover, the government must
approve bylaws, mergers, separations, and annual reports, and
maintains the power of dissolution.

6. (SBU) Comment: The GOL is becoming more and more
comfortable with the existence of local non-profit
associations and is increasingly viewing these associations
as stakeholders in development. Thus, the codification of
the registration process and the accompanying implicit
legitimization of NPAs appears to be a step forward. The GOL
is not unaware that progress in this area also makes Laos
more attractive to donors looking to fund civil society and
capacity development projects. The NPA decree will not
transform associational life in Laos overnight (rather, the
new procedure will take some time to implement). However,
there is potential for this to be a significant step towards
a more open and active society in the future, as associations
gain traction and branch into a range of possibly more
contentious issues. End comment.

7. (U) For reference, these NPAs were registered under LUSEA
in 2005 and 2006, according to embassy NGO contacts:

a. Association for Research and Development
b. Association of Lao Architects and Civil Engineers
c. Community and Environmental Development Association
d. Community Development Association
e. Community Environmental Promotion and Cultural
f. Lao Biodiversity Preservation and Development
g. Lao Community Sustainable Development Promotion
h. Lao Developmental Cooperation Association
i. Lao Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS
j. Lao Power Engineering Association
k. Lao Promotion Biological Products Association
l. Lao Youth and Children Development Association
m. Non-profit Association of Lao Development
n. NPO Lao ABC
o. Promotion for Education on Development Association
(formerly Youth Fighting AIDS)
p. Rural Research and Development Training Centre
q. Technology Promotion for Sustainable Development
Information Environment Management
r. The Association of Language Development and Enhancement
s. The Renewable Energy for Sustainable Development
t. The Social Science Research and Speaking Promotion
u. Tree Planting and Livestock Promotion Association
v. Vulnerable Lao Youth Development Association

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