Govt on right track to improve business climate

Laos’ fall in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Index from 141st place last year to 153rd this year has ignited a public debate over the government’s ability to improve the country’s business climate.
To many, particularly businesspeople, the latest ranking is unexpected and very disappointing. This is due to the fact that they had high expectations of Prime Minister Thongloun Sisoulith, who had promised to do his best to create a more business-friendly environment.
Since I have previously expressed strong confidence that the government was finally on the right track to improving the business climate, I was asked to comment on the latest World Bank survey.
One of the key questions is what is wrong with government policy? Why has it failed to improve the business climate?
This is a difficult question for someone like me who is not an authority on the subject. I have conducted no research on the issue and have no experience in running a business. However, I feel very honoured to have been asked to comment and humbly offer my opinion below.
As a public administration scholar and a journalist who has been keeping a close eye on the delivery of public service, I would like to say the government is on the right track.  However, it will take some time for the government’s initiatives to take effect.
Based on my own academic experience at an Australian university and personal observations, it is normal for social and economic change to happen slowly in any country, despite what the government and people wish. The transformation of a country requires time.
A leading theory of managing change states that once the government has initiated a change, it will face a lot of resistance. This is not because government officials have lost trust in the leadership but because of their limited ability to accept change.
This is definitely true in the Lao context. Currently, public officials who are following orders to improve the business climate have not been fully trained in how to implement new government policies. In addition, some officials do not know how and when they should start the change. This may be the cause of the government’s inability to improve public services as fast as many other countries have and so explain why Laos’ ranking in the Ease of Doing Business index dropped as much as it did.
I think government leaders are fully aware of this fact. One piece of evidence for this is that earlier this year the government sought a loan from the World Bank to finance a project designed to enhance the capacity of state agencies to improve service delivery to businesspeople.
I believe that with the increased capacity of state organisations to do their job, along with clear procedures and guidelines on how public officials should perform their duties, businesspeople will receive better services in the near future.
Although I have learnt that the government is on the right track to improve the business climate, there are many things that public administrators and officials should do to speed up change and make sure they can achieve the desired outcomes.
One of the things the government should do is let all officials know that an improvement in public service delivery and the business climate is both essential and unavoidable. Currently, many Lao government officials are not fully aware of the dangers of inadaptability. They do not recognise the need for change in the way they carry out their roles.
To many, the improvement and transformation of public service is merely a government policy of little consequence. They do not know that Laos will face a serious economic crisis if they fail to improve the way businesses and public services operate here.
I think the key message that the government should deliver to stakeholders is that if we do not improve the business climate, the economy cannot be transformed into a modern, knowledge-based one which will be sustainable into the future.
Stakeholders should understand that, at present, Laos’ economic growth is based on the exploitation of natural resources and that one day these will be exhausted. It is therefore imperative for public officials to do their best to improve service delivery. The improvement of public service is a matter of life and death for the State.
I strongly believe that if we view the improvement of public service as essential and unavoidable, people will feel more strongly about the need to back government policies aimed at improving these services.
In conclusion, based on what I learnt in my academic life, change takes time and it is normal for people to resist change if they are not given cause to adapt to new environments. I strongly suggest that the government provide proper training for all officials so they can provide better service and deliver government policies more effectively. 
In addition, I would like to suggest that the government publicise the matter and educate all officials on the essential need for improvement in the business climate.  If change is viewed as unavoidable, people will be better able to accept improvements in public services.

By Ekaphone Phouthonesy
(Latest Update November 15, 2018)

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