Lao Police Face Public Outrage Over Alleged Unfair Fees

Lao Police Face Public Outrage Over Alleged Unfair Fees
Police checks a motorist on the road

Residents across Laos have expressed mounting concerns over frequent cases of authorities demanding unfair fees.

Although the issue is no news, the growing inflation and economic struggles of the country have sparked the anger of the public with hundreds of people recently voicing their frustration on social media.

The Laotian Times spoke with residents in Vientiane Capital about this.

Mark, a 25-year-old man and a resident of Vientiane Capital, has come forward with his own unsettling encounter with the police. He reported being charged LAK 150,000 (around USD 7.24) for what he believes were trivial reasons. According to Mark, the police accused him of having a motorcycle headlight that wasn’t “bright enough” and of modifying his bike when, in fact, he had not made any modifications.

In Mark’s opinion, these incidents occur because officers may be in need of what is colloquially referred to as “tea money.” He expressed the view that the police may be targeting minor infractions to supplement their income. 

“Man, they charged me because my headlight is not bright enough, and you know what’s funny? This happened in the morning. Personally, I think stuff like this happens because the officers need some tea money. They couldn’t catch real crimes that are worth their attention, so they target us instead,” he mused.

Mark’s account adds to the growing concerns about alleged unjust charges and raises questions about the motivations of some officers in Laos.

But Mark’s experience is not unique. Phonpaseuth, another resident of Vientiane, shared about a similar encounter, when he recalled feeling unfairly victimized by traffic police. 

“They’ll eventually find a reason to squeeze the money out of you,” Phonpaseuth lamented. “There was this one time I was about to move forward with my motorbike when the traffic light was green, but [because of] the bad traffic I got stuck when I nearly reached the other side, and then the light turned red. As soon as that happened, a traffic officer came to me and charged me for crossing with a red light.”

But despite his attempts to explain the situation to the police and provide the officer with his official documents, they proceeded to charge him. 

“They told me the cost I had to pay was an ‘encouragement’ fee,” Phonpaseuth added.

When asked about the prevalence of such incidents in Laos, Phonpaseuth attributed it to the extremely low monthly salary of police officers. 

“I’m pretty sure they have their families – wives and kids – to take care of,” he noted. “With the amount of salary the government is paying them, I don’t think they can even last a month without any extra cash, so some of them have to do whatever it takes to survive.”

Another voice echoing the same concerns is that of Ali, a Tunisian expat, in Laos for five years now, who shared about his multiple encounters with what he called “police fees.”

“Basically every time I go out at night, especially on a weekend night, I always prepare that extra 100,000-200,000 kip,” he said.

“I tried to present my passport and papers, but the officer didn’t even want to look at them,” he explained. “I said, ‘You want money?’” Ali continued, recalling his first time being pulled over by a police officer in Vientiane. “He [the officer] answered, ‘You have a lot of money?’. I just had 20,000 kip on me that I gave to him, and he was happy and said ‘bye bye der!'”

According to Ali’s opinion, the police would demand him money just because he’s a foreigner, regardless of how up-to-date his legal papers are. 

These accounts, among dozens others, shed light on a growing concern among both citizens and expats across the country and raised questions about the financial challenges faced by law enforcement officers. The allegations of unfair charges and “encouragement” fees warrant further investigation and attention.