A few days back there was a series of articles published by the Vientiane Times which are interesting because very seldom we can see a connected chain of events so clearly portrayed in the same media and at the same time. Let us walk you through.
Government operations in bureacratoland
The first article was titled "Public concerned Lao forests will be left with no big trees". It would seem that people are seeing large numbers of overloaded trucks with no number plates transporting lumber. That's OK says the Deputy Director of the Forestry Department because it may have been harvested in 2011 to 2013 and also it may have originated from clearance operation for hydropower dams or crop plantations. The government has closed production forests to allow areas to recover and may reopen them in 2016. There you have it. Government as good steward of the environment balancing economic and ecologic needs for the benefit of society. It could not be clearer.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, forests are "badly damaged" due to different types of constructions and illegal logging. Deforestation increased from 64% to 41.5% between 1960 and 2002. To support the sustainability of forests, officials, soldiers, police officers and the public plant trees during Arbor Day but there are no statistics.
Lies, damned lies, statistics and finally politicians
Let's stop for a minute and contemplate the picture. Laos is losing its forests. Politically speaking, it’s a matter of lef-hand/right-hand government bureaucratese.
Left-hand: deforestation is OK because clear cutting is making room for progress.
Right-hand: but, there are also some illegal activities going on.
So… clear cutting is legal and illegal simultaneously. Got it.
Left-hand: that's OK because we just closed lumber operations and will re-open in 2016.
Right-hand: forest coverage will be increased to 65% by 2015 and 70% by 2020
So…it will take about 15 years to recover coverage by 5% except that within 3 years commercial forests will have recovered in Lao… they must be planting supertrees or bamboo. How stupid of us not to realize this fact.
Left-hand: wooden areas will recover by themselves.
Right-hand: we need to plant more saplings to reduce deforestation.
So…the forests will recover by themselves in ultra-super-hyper-record time and it is for this reason that we need to plant more saplings (which we have no idea if they are even growing) in order to prevent deforestation. Got it.
Crime and punishment
The second article is titled "Xayaboury executes mass timber factory closure to save forests". It would seem that in the province of Xayaboury the government has decided to close down most wood factories (111 of them) because there are "almost not good trees left to cut down" and these factories are illegal. There will be fines galore. You see, there you have it, the government bringing justice to the people.
"… smaller and younger trees were being cut down as big trees and hardwoods were almost nonexistent…"
In other words, let's protect the environment only after the damage was done. Got it.
The government only allowed for a small quota from hydroelectric projects.
In other words, the government was totally, completely, utterly, ridiculously and absolutely incompetent beyond any measure whatsoever to protect any forest. Got it.
The article continues by stating that "timber traders cited…high-ranking government officials when their business was declared illegal…"
Hummmm… do we smell a rat?
GIO to the rescue!
The Government Inspection Organization (GIO) was put in charge so that "Officials to begin declaring assets next month as govt fights corruption" reads the third article. It would seem that high-ranking leaders, administrative-level officials, all state employees, employees of state joint-venture enterprises, soldiers and police will have to declare. They will have to do so every 2 years and before retiring. You see? Proof positive! Governments can clean-up their acts! Democracy at work.
In poor economic conditions as in Vietnam (it ranks 125th out of 169 countries in the world in terms of GDP per capita) the main source of income is bribery and shady deals involving government officials. It is this process indeed that has allowed Vietnamese GDP to grow an impressive 25 times (this is 2500%) in over 50 years, surpassing US's rate (22 times or 2200%).
In other words, the Vietnamese economy grew very rapidly because of lack of government interference through bribery. This does not necessarily implies black market, in the sense that many companies had to bribe in order to operate, but they also paid taxes; they were "legal".
Let's see. Here we have an economy which requires the government to stay away from it in order to operate more efficiently… what a surprise. Now a government initiative threatens to put the brakes on this process… of which most government officials, and people, benefit. What do you think will happen? Of course! the GIO will have its paperwork done in a tidal wave of Public Relations photo-ops and new and then… nothing will ever happen with the exception of the odd sacrificial lamb to "demonstrate" that the system works.
JOINING THE DOTS
In Laos people are seeing deforestation take place in front of their eyes. When politicians are inquired, they simply lie. They do so because most (if not all of them) are involved in the lucrative business of receiving bribes and making shady deals with companies in order to sell out "government property" and line their pockets. This level of bribery has reached such a widespread level, that the most vital element in a country (votes) are placed at risk. So what do politicians do? They engage in "damage control" through meaningless organizations such as the GIO, which look good but do nothing. Nobody in their right mind will jeopardize their own source of income.
This clear enough?
The solution to the problem is not more government and more regulations. We have had this for over 200 years by now and it is not working. The key element in this saga is not that politicians have not taken good care of Vietnamese forests as asking for this is an oxymoron. They can no more do this than they can control the weather.
The solution is to privatize everything and cancel all governments. Private owners will almost never, ever, allow for clear cutting. Private owners will take good care of woodland because woodlands are a continuous source of profits. Why would any person consciously decide to destroy its source of income? They would not. This is, again, not political science fiction; this happens every day throughout the world with private forests. The only places on earth where deforestation and decimation is taken place at a massive scale is on "public lands"… what a surprise!
It is very simple. The so-called "public property" belongs to nobody and since politicians operate disconnected from people, they simply take it and line their pockets. Some things are simple indeed, this is one of them.
Very seldom we see a chain of articles published simultaneously and by the same source that so clearly depicts a government-related problem. The point of this article, the point of this site, is to highlight that causes have consequences; that what politicians do trigger chains of events which ultimately decrease everybody's standards of living. What politicians do matters because the drop in our wealth is real and matters to you because it is your life. Furthermore, this is not a local effect. It does not affect only this, that or your country. It is a world-wide problem that affects us all, because the world itself is economically interrelated. A screw-up there affects us here. This makes us all brothers (and sisters - let's not forget being politically correct) in this problem. Welcome to the sisterhood (or brotherhood as it may be)!
You may choose to believe these facts or not but one thing is clear; all the clues are there to be seen. All you have to do is to join the dots. What you do next is up to you.
Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.