Cambodia’s parliament on Friday approved a law providing financial guarantees for the developers of a planned hydropower dam on a Mekong River tributary, despite opposition from civil society groups seeking to delay the project.
Villagers campaigning against the Lower Sesan 2 dam in northeastern Cambodia’s Stung Treng province have expressed concern about compensation for villagers displaced by the project, which they say would destroy protected forest areas, kill rare fish, and negatively impact local ethnic minority culture.
But Friday’s vote in the National Assembly, after five hours of tough debate, cleared the way for the dam’s Chinese- and Vietnamese-backed developers to move ahead with plans to begin constructing the project next year.
Out of the assembly’s 123 lawmakers, 82, mostly from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), voted in favor of the law, which provides for compensation for project developers if the country’s major power company fails to pay for electricity it has promised to purchase from the dam.
Opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) and Human Rights Party (HRP) lawmakers voted against the draft law, with SRP members requesting to postpone discussion on the law.
Suy Sem, Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy, thanked the National Assembly for supporting the draft law, saying the dam will help grow Cambodia’s economy.
“The dam will help the government to distribute electricity to develop the country. The electricity will attract investors to invest in factories,” he said after the vote.
“I am confident that electricity in Cambodia will be improved."
Responsibility for dam's impact
Environmental group International Rivers said the law helps put into effect an implementation agreement that significantly reduced the project’s compensation and environment costs, effectively releasing the developers from responsibility for many of the dam’s ecological and social impacts.
The text of the bill includes plans to provide compensation for less than 800 villagers displaced by the project, but green groups have said tens of thousands others living upstream and downstream from the project will also be affected.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said he was disappointed that the assembly approved the law, adding that he was concerned about corruption in connection with the plan to compensate relocated villagers.
“We will go down to the dam site to investigate whether the government has implemented [the compensation scheme] to the villagers affected by the project or not.”
On Thursday, villagers from Stung Treng and Kratie provinces held a press conference urging lawmakers to reject the law.
The dam, located at the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers that flow into Southeast Asia’s shared Mekong River, is a joint venture involving Cambodian, Chinese, and Vietnamese investment of U.S. $781 million and is due to be completed within five years.
Villagers say developers are expected to begin clearing for the dam’s reservoir and setting up worker camps in April, according to International Rivers.
International Rivers has called the project “one of the worst proposed dams in the Lower Mekong Basin” due to potential environmental destruction and harm to Cambodia’s food security and has urged the National Assembly to demand more studies on the dam’s impact.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.