Yesterday, the European Union Delegation to Laos, together with the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education and Sports, the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry of Planning and Investment and the Ministry of Finance, hosted the fourth Inter-Ministerial Budget Support Steering Committee.
The objective of the meeting was to review the overall progress in the Nutrition and Education sectors, in order to assess whether the foreseen EU budget support payment for 2021 (18.4 million Euros) could be disbursed. The meeting was co-chaired by H.E Dr Bounfeng Phommalaysith, Minister of Health, H.E. Asso. Prof. Dr. Phout Simmalavong, Minister of Education and Sports, and H.E. Ms Ina Marčiulionytė, EU Ambassador to Laos in Vientiane.
The meeting assessed progress and challenges in Nutrition and Education, as well as in macroeconomic and fiscal stabilisation measures, within the COVID-19 context. Through its budget support in education and nutrition, the EU supports the Lao Government efforts to (1) increase access to quality basic education and implement reforms in teacher management, education planning and financing, and (2) improve maternal and child nutrition, and strengthen nutrition governance in Laos.
Speaking at the event, H.E Dr Bounfeng Phommalaysith, Minister of Health, stressed that awareness and promotion of good nutrition practices have considerably improved, reaching disadvantaged groups, to address causes of malnutrition in Laos.
In particular, the adoption of the Decree on ”Infant and Young Child Food Product Control” and its Implementation Guidelines, set an example of an improved legal instrument for protecting, promoting and supporting breastfeeding. While the prevalence of stunting children under 5 years old decreased continuously during the last two decades, significant disparities remain across the provinces with children in rural areas who are two to three times more likely to suffer from stunting than children in urban settings. More needs to be done to address the inequalities.
“I would like to congratulate and extend my sincere gratitude to the European Union who has always stood by the Government of Laos, for their continued assistance in nutrition and education,” Dr Bounfeng Phommalaysith added.
In the education sector and despite the COVID-19 disruption to the scholar year, the Education Ministry remains committed to defending equitable access to education, maintaining learning and teaching quality as well as facilitating access to continuous learning for girls and boys. However, regional disparities remain a challenge. Quality of teaching is particularly low in schools located in remote and mountainous districts. “The government is determined to pursue its efforts with education partners to provide access and quality standards of education for all,” said H.E Dr Phout Simmalavong, Minister of Education and Sports. H. E. the Minister also outlined that “focusing on good governance of the education system is crucial to ensure effective management of the limited resources allocated to the education sector by strengthening links between planning and budgeting at Central, Provincial and District level; it will also contribute to an efficient budget execution based on priorities and relevance.”
Budget allocation, transparency and oversight were discussed to assess the levels of public spending on service delivery related to nutrition and education. H.E Dr Bounleua Sinxayvolavong, Deputy Minister of Finance, explained “The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted on the domestic revenue mobilisation forcing the Government to make substantive cuts between. While the Education sector, as well as national Nutrition programmes, were not spared from this reduction, this decrease is less compared to other line ministries. In fact, the allocation ratio to GDP has even increased”.
Actions are taken to improve the domestic revenue collection via revision of the tax legislation, the rationalisation of public procurement as well as assessing the cost of tax expenditure to the benefit of big companies. These measures are fully embedded in the Government PFM reform plan 2021-2025.
“The European Union remains committed to continue supporting the improvement of the education sector and eradicate malnutrition in Laos through an open and inclusive policy dialogue”, said H.E Ms Ina Marčiulionytė, EU Ambassador to Laos. “We are proud of the achievements made and we remain engaged to further progress on both sectors and to address the remaining issues.”
The EU Nutrition and Education Budget Support Programmes to Laos are worth a total of LAK 1,120 billion (EUR 95.5 million) with the goal to contribute to sustainable, inclusive and equitable growth in Laos in line with the 8th National Socio-Economic Development Plan (NSEDP) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).