Local governance paves way for poverty reduction in Lao PDR

Hor Kong villagers driving to the market on a newly-built road.
Hor Kong villagers heading to market on a newly-built road. (Photo: UNDP)

The rainy season used to mean a loss of revenue for Timchai, a farmer in the southern Lao province of Saravene. Rainfall during this five-month period would often make the road running from her village to the nearest market impassible, causing her produce to rot before she had an opportunity to sell it.

But thanks to the construction of a new road, Timchai can now access the market in any weather.

Highlights

  • UNDP's Governance and Public Administration Reform (GPAR) programme is improving the efficiency of civil service in Lao PDR.
  • The District Development Fund (DDF) capital investments have financed 286 local infrastructure projects across 35 districts.
  • The time needed to register a business has decreased by 80%.
  • 25% of district administrations have been strengthened for pro-poor development under the previous GPAR Programme, with UNDP assistance.

“With this road I can bring more of my coconuts, watermelons and pumpkins to market,” says 37-year old Timchai, who lives in Hor Kong village. “Since the road was built I’ve got more income and bought books and school uniforms for my children.”

The road project is the result of efforts of the Governance and Public Administration Reform programme, Saravene Province (GPAR SP), a four-year initiative designed to build the capacity of local district administrations.

Supported jointly by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), and the European Union (EU), GPAR SP aims to develop institutional, managerial and technical capacities among local authorities to ensure better public service delivery, and thereby alleviate poverty.

After identifying the need for a new road, Timchai and her fellow villagers voted to make construction of the road a development priority in their community. They then enlisted the help of their local administration, which secured funding for the road project through the District Development Fund, one component of GPAR SP.

Since 2006, the District Development Fund has invested in some 286 projects in Lao PDR, with average investments of US$14,000 per project.

Similar initiatives are being implemented in 6 provinces across Lao PDR through the GPAR Central programme.

GPAR Central works to strengthen government institutions in the country by helping them to develop human resources, improve financial management skills and make better use of information technology. It also assists with developing basic policy and legal systems, and works to boost the essential skills of those in key central agencies and ministries, including the office of the Prime Minister. 

The goal of these numerous projects is to provide better services to the most remote and imporverished areas in Lao PDR.

At the local level, the programme gives planning and spending power to district governments, enabling them to carry out small-scale infrastructure projects, such as improving water distribution systems and building roads and schools. These projects are done in consultation with local residents and aim to meet the specific needs of each community.

Small development projects, particularly the construction of new roads, are crucial in Lao PDR, where 70 percent of the country’s population lives in rural areas.

These new roads allow rural residents to access not just commercial markets, but also travel to the numerous ‘One Door’ government service centres, which issue business licenses, land titles, birth and marriage certificates and vehicle registration. A total of 11 ‘One Door’ centres, made possible by the District Development Fund, exist throughout the country.

The documentation available at these one-stop-shop centres helps local residents to qualify for bank loans, which they can then use to start their own businesses. 

“The easily accessible services have encouraged business growth and entrepreneurial activities here,” says Bounsi Saypaserth, head of the One Door centre in nearby Sekong town.

The project Strengthening Capacity and Service Delivery to Local Administrators was renewed in February 2012 for four years, ending in December 2015.