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The time has come for change

The new Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh has pledged that the government will do whatever it can in order to put into practice the 11th Party resolution, which promises to bring strong and deep change in line with the opening-up policy which was initiated in 1986.
“Standing in front of the honourable national flag, to high level Party and state leaders, National Assembly members, and honoured guests, I would like to pledge and swear that I will enrich the revolutionary and breakthrough spirit and work alongside government members to do my best in performing duties in accordance with the constitution and law,” the new premier said during the inaugural session of the National Assembly’s 9th legislature on March 22.
“The government would partner with all relevant sectors to ensure that the implementation of the Party resolution was more fruitful in the coming years,” he added.
The 11th Party resolution, which was adopted during the National Party Congress in January, provides a new environment for the government to strengthen and deepen changes in accordance with the Party’s opening-up policy.
Having learnt of the new premier’s promise at the assembly session, some people have expressed the view that transforming the nation’s low level of economic productivity into an effective and efficient economy is something that is easy to talk about but is difficult to implement and achieve.
I agree with those who say that the transformation of a nation can be likened to climbing a steep hill; it will make you very tired because it is indeed a difficult task. However, I am very optimistic and think that the presence of difficulties does not mean that the government’s new mission won’t be achievable.
Apart from this, I expect that some change in accordance with the opening-up policy will eventually be realised; soon or later it will definitely come, it is just a matter of time.
There are several factors that inspire me to believe that the required national transformation will be strengthened and deepened and finally be realised in the coming years.
Political factors
I am inclined to be optimistic and forward thinking. If I am not wrong, I believe that change has already taken place in Laos from the day the National Assembly endorsed the new state leadership body.
What makes me think like this is because I have seen the strong determination on the part of the new Party and state leadership to work harder in order to transform the nation from being a poor to prosperous one by creating a business friendly environment to attract investment, to boost productivity and sustain national economic growth and poverty reduction.
Upon assuming the presidency of the Lao PDR, Mr Thongloun Sisoulith, in his role as the nation’s top leader, said that he and Party central committee members will do whatever they can to create conditions and an environment for the government to secure sustained development in line with the opening-up policy.
The key features of the renovation policy, which was articulated by President Kaysone Phomvihane in 1986, are the abolition of the centrally-planned economic mechanism and instead to allow the market and the private sector to play a greater role in boosting economic growth and poverty reduction.
Innovation established for deepening change
In addition to the political commitment to strengthen the required change in all sectors, another factor which gives me new hope that change will take place is the adoption of innovation, new ideas and a new mindset of top Party and government leaders.
At a National Assembly session designed to provide a floor for the new Prime Minister Phankham to interact with lawmakers, the head of government said something which was very new, very innovative and constructive.
“As policymakers and public administrators, first of all we have to accept that problems exist in order to find ways to resolve them,” Mr Phankham said, adding that if the country did not acknowledge this it would be impossible to solve problems because none would exist to be solved.
This perspicacity on the part of the new prime minister reflects a significant change in the perception of  public administrators. Tradionally and normally, some Lao public administrators do not like to acknowledge problems because this would be an indication that they are incompetent and incapable.
This traditional perception contradicts with public administration practices. According to this change management literature, the lack of acknowledgement of problems is a wrong mindset, which public policy makers should avoid.
In fact, the nature of public policy implementation or the function of any public organisations is meant to address particular problems, not to avoid problems otherwise they have no reason to exist.
Making an analysis from what the new prime minister said, I think that the Lao public policy implementation and administration has reached a new milestone or a positive turning point on the path to put the opening up policy into practice.
The final factor that will make a significant contribution to strengthen and deepen the national transformation is the economic hardship that the country is currently facing, namely an unsustainable economic structure and financial difficulties.
The current economic structure is mainly based on the natural resource sector, which is getting depleted therefore it is unsustainable.
In order to secure growth or to survive, the government has no other choice but to actively diversify the economic base, to transform its traditional economic structure into a more modern and knowledge based one.
To cement national economic stability, the government has already listed economic and financial difficulty in its top national agenda. Under this context, all public agencies, relevant stakeholders or perhaps even the entire Lao society are required to participate in the prevention of the crisis.
An alternative view is that Laos does not need to worry too much about economic reform and change because the country still has plenty of resources and is situated in the midst of emerging economies. Laos will benefit from growth in neighbouring nations as well as external assistance.
I agree with this and it is not wrong to express this opinion. However, without economic restructuring and adaptation to changing local and international environments in order to build national stability, the current wealth which we now possess will not last for long and the next generation will pay the expensive price for inflexibility.
Key challenges in transforming the nation
Despite political support, innovation and economic pressure, to achieve the required change is still challenging. The success of national transformation now depends on the level of public policy implementation.
According to a leading and managing change literature, it is very important for change makers to bear in mind that change is a risky business by nature. In any change, the scenario is full of risks of failure and in the worst case, it would be a big disaster. This is particularly the case if a mission to transform a nation is made without proper plans to keep change under control.
Based on these management lessons and experiences, in order to bring safe and manageable change, first of all, it is essential to develop a sense of urgency and need to drive change within all public agencies as well as among relevant stakeholders and members of the public.
It is meant that all relevant stakeholders must understand the fact that if they fail to adjust themselves or be compatible with a new environment, they may not survive. On top of that all relevant stakeholders must see change as their problem as well as realise the need to solve problems in order to survive.
The change manangement theories provide us with plenty of useful lessons, one of these, any change will not occur without active participation of all relevant sectors, officials and people within a nation.
The most important thing that changer managers must bear in mind when initiating change is that the transformation must be pursued with clear objectives and goals rather than allowing different stakeholders to introduce whatever changes they prefer to.
There is alot of scientific evidence that the only constructed change is safe as change makers will be in position to keep all change and factors under control.
In conclusion, with political commitment, innovation, and a new mindset of state leaders combined with economic pressure, Laos does not have much choice except to accept change and adapt to cope with the current context. Change will finally come to Laos, it is just a matter of time, no matter whether we like it or not. However, it is important to note that change must be carefully constructed and be manageable, otherwise it will go beyond the control of the authorities.
The author of this article is a senior journalist and editor at Vientiane Times. He is also an Australian Scholarship alumni with Master Degree in Public Administration (Management) from Flinders University, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia.


By Ekaphone Phouthonesy
(Latest Update March 29, 2021)

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