Journey From Resource Exploitation To Knowledge Economy A Long, Necessary Road in Laos

Development of Knowledge Economy A Must in Laos.
Development of Knowledge Economy A Must in Laos.

OPINION: What are you going to do when you grow up? It’s a question relevant to socio-economics as well as people as policymakers discuss “Vision 2020-2025”. 

It is a question many if not all of us will remember parents or elders asking when were kids.

“What are you gonna be when you grow up?”

Some of us knew already. Others had barely a clue.

A few see their future dreams come true. Others not so much. Even more just muddled through.

When it comes to posing this question, many of us of a certain age or older may well have reciprocated with the younger generations.

Perhaps, the need to make future considerations is one of the few constants in a rapidly changing world in some ways radically changed from that experienced by our ancestors just a few generations ago.

Yet one difference is that these days, it’s not only children that are being asked this question.

It’s a question being asked of entire countries.

The increasingly rapid,  landscape-shifting developments in technology and their positive and negative externalities at a time of increasing connectivity have a multitude of economic and social development implications for all nations of the world.

This is particularly relevant for a least developed country (LDC) such as Laos, still dealing with long-lasting legacies of colonialism and war plus persistent corruption issues while pushing toward an aspiration of lower-middle-income status.

This comes at a time of rapid automation and emergence of Artificial Intelligence that promises to upend employment globally in both East and West, North and South.

So in Laos as elsewhere, the nation’s policymakers and entrepreneurs alike look ahead in both anticipation and trepidation to a future of potential opportunity as well as challenges as the public and private sectors seek to manage risk and increased prosperity in an unknown world.

In the case of resource-abundant and sparsely populated Laos, natural resource exploitation to feed the demand of foreign markets has long been a necessity to raise funds for necessary imports.

Over time, mining and power development have provided steady yet fluctuating rivers of revenue that have long helped to float the nation’s budget that has also helped to pave more than a few roads, paid the modest salary of civil servants, teachers and medics and other necessary services as well as funding the construction of buildings and purchase of vehicles and their fuel.

Yet with natural limits in mind and with an eye to the longer term future of a still young populace, policymakers are increasingly cognizant that moves to an increasingly knowledge-based economy promise greater long term sustainability than banking on continued returns from natural resource exploitation.

A more human development focused strategy should also go some way toward more judicious use of the country’s remaining natural resources in the long term,  a welcome consideration considering the finite and already depleting extent of the country’s natural endowments of minerals, forests and river catchments.

Such topics are among those being aired in Vision 2020-25. Reported upon by state-run English language daily Vientiane Times recently, it is believed the document accompanied the latest 2019 installment of the nation’s socio-economic development plan that is being circulated among the policymaking fraternity for discussion.

It involves measures to continually improve the climate for doing business so as to facilitate quality investment from domestic and international sources.

A knowledge economy is one that draws on insights from the crowd, so Laotian Times looks forward to reporting more upon the contents of the Vision 2020-2025 as they are released.

Such moves come as the country’s PM Thongloun Sisoulith has urged improvements to Lao workforce skills, advising labor and social welfare authorities to deliver on the country’s labor skill development policy to help more Lao employees to benefit as their skills meet the needs of the job market.

The comments were made at the national labor and social welfare sector meeting that took place in late January at the National Convention Centre in Vientiane.

It also comes as the country moves to codify areas for investment in controlled sectors, laying out in a clear way the procedures and permissions necessary to invest.

The recent development of a civil code in the country, with the help of Japan’s International Cooperation Agency (JICA), is also encouraging.

Such developments should all have a positive influence towards improving Laos scores on various international indices including the Ease of Doing business and Transparency International’s Corruption index.

When it comes to making a better and safer country, another area for major improvement remains road safety.

Laos’ young population has taken to the wheel, but the danger of the roads is very real as many do not have training, licenses or insurance.

Air quality is another area in which improvement is needed.

While the parlous state of air pollution neighboring nations has hit global headlines, Laos’ own capital and its many dusty rural towns can also undertake various measures to make the air better, including increased efforts to prevent and control the burning of household, garden, plastic and other wastes as prosperity grows.

Meanwhile, progress is being made on several indicators in health and education.

Of course, challenges remain abundant. Disparities are more than evident. Natural disasters are testing resilience. Accidents, whether on road or at Xe Pian Xe Namnoy, cause death and demoralization. Compensation, where available, is still no replacement for life and livelihood.

With such challenges, it might seem churlish to raise less life-threatening yet still very serious issues.

One such area so critical to the future of Laos like anywhere is as that of internet access, reliability and speed, as the data in World Bank’s February 4, 2019 report Digital Connectivity in Lao PDR: Lagging Behind Peers reveals.

How well will Laos be able to prioritise, optimise and engage on all these many challenges and make the most of opportunities to create a better future for its population together?

This will be important in achieving any of the goals the nation has set for itself.

When it comes to human financial and environmental capital, we can all do our part to move to a future where the country uses its limited resources and boost its human resources and knowledge capacity for the benefit of all of her people.