On April 2, the prime minister of Laos issued the Decision on the Policies and Measures to Reduce the Impact from the COVID-19 Pandemic. A number of the measures announced will affect locally established business operators.
The latest decision reiterates previously issued measures from the Ministry of Finance and the Bank of Laos (see here and here). The most salient new measures provided in the decision are primarily concerned with tax relief as follows:
- Salary tax exemption for both private and public sector employees, applicable for monthly salaries below LAK 5 million (approx. USD 550), in effect from April to June.
- Deferment of payments for affected businesses, including normal contributions to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF), in effect for the months of April to June. The new deadline for contributions to the NSSF has not yet been specified.
- Profit tax exemption for micro-enterprises from April to June.
- Exemption from customs duties, tax, and related official fees, on medical devices and other products for prevention, control, and preparation in regard to COVID-19 (e.g., masks, sanitizers, medical equipment, and other necessary items—a more detailed list will be provided later).
- Postponement of tax obligations for eligible business operators in the tourism industry for the months of April to June 2020. A detailed list of the businesses that will benefit from this provision will be provided by the Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism.
Other measures in the decision include postponement of the payment of annual road tax to June 30; confirmation of the Bank of Laos’ proposal to decrease the interest rate and ratio of the compulsory reserve for private commercial banks; and an announcement that the government is studying the possibility of reducing and deferring electricity and water bill payments for both individuals and businesses.
Public Sector Expenditures
The prime minister stated that large-scale investment projects should be encouraged to maintain their ongoing operations, private investment should be facilitated, and ministries and local authorities should decrease their usual administrative expenses by at least 10% of their budget for 2020. Expenses that will be reduced include those relating to (1) meetings and seminars, (2) welcoming of foreign guests, (3) scientific studies, (4) construction expenses, (5) national celebrations, (6) fixed assets, and (7) other expenses. The resulting cost savings will be redirected to the government’s COVID-19 prevention efforts.
New public investment infrastructure projects that have already been approved by the National Assembly in 2020 will be delayed to 2021. Projects deemed to be overvalued or to have a limited impact will be reassessed and suspended or renegotiated.
Lao Airlines is singled out as a state enterprise that may need to adapt its business plan, and it should be ready to resume its activities as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.
As is the case in many other jurisdictions, the government of Laos has taken a series of extraordinary measures over the past week to address the far-reaching impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, and these further clarifications by the prime minister are welcome. Further details will be required in regard to the deadlines and eligibility for some of the relief measures, and we expect that these issues will be treated on a case-by-case basis by the line ministries until further explanations are provided through official channels.