On April 29, 2009 the Government of Lao PDR approved a decree for the regulation and operation of Lao non-profit associations. The approval of the decree marks a significant step toward a more enabling environment for civil society in Lao PDR.
Prior to the approval of the decree, the legal environment for civil society organizations in Lao PDR was largely absent. At the highest level, the Lao PDR Constitution allows for the formation of civil society associations through Article 44: “Lao citizens have the right and freedom of speech, press and assembly, and have the right to set up associations and to stage demonstrations which are not contrary to the laws.” There was no operational law or regulation, however, directly governing civil society organizations.
In the absence of governing legislation, there was no clear and predictable means for being recognized as a legal entity. Some associations sought registration with various government agencies through personal contacts, rather than through objective criteria. But in practice, few civil society organizations have been recognized as legal entities. Consequently, the ability for civil society organizations to access funds and to contribute meaningfully to the development process has remained very limited.
The decree will become operational in November 2009, and authorizes the Public Administration and Civil Service Authority (PACSA), in conjunction with line ministries, to register and monitor all non-profit associations in Lao PDR. With the support of Concern Worldwide, ICNL has worked closely with PACSA, providing support for the development of the decree and implementing guidelines.