The National Assembly approved the financing of a 400-megawatt dam in Stung Treng province on Friday, giving the project the green light in spite of objections from opposition lawmakers who argued that the social and environmental impacts outweigh the project’s benefits.
After four hours of debate by opposition SRP lawmakers, 82 out of 90 lawmakers voted in favor of moving ahead with the Lower Sesan 2 dam—a controversial hydropower plant that will be located at the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers.
It is set to displace more than 5,000 villagers, and studies have shown that up to 100,000 residents upstream and downstream of the dam will be severely affected by its impact on the rivers’ fisheries.
“There is no transparency in almost all of the government’s hydropower dam projects and coal plant construction projects because public bidding is never done,” said SRP lawmaker Son Chhay, who voted against the law.
“[The National Assembly] should not approve the law and a new thorough study and research for the impacts of the project should be conducted,” he continued.
Documents presented on Friday supporting the law detailed the costs of the dam’s construction, the cost of electricity sold to state-owned utility Electricite du Cambodge, and the resettlement of almost 800 affected families in Sesan district.
The law also guarantees that in the event that the $781 million project should fail, the government would grant a bailout to the company, owned by local conglomerate Royal Group in collaboration with China’s Hydrolancang International Energy Co. Ltd.
Before the law passage, Mr. Chhay also pointed out the discrepancies between the law and a 2009 environmental impact assessment commissioned by then-majority shareholder EVNI. While it was originally estimated that 1,052 families would be impacted, the new law only factors in compensation for 797 families.
In addition, the project was originally slated to cost about $500 million under a 35-year Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model; the project now costs $871 million and is under a 45-year BOT.
Mr. Chhay added that past experience showed that companies often cleared forest areas outside the designated reservoir and in this case could have bad consequences for the forests of Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri provinces.
The luxury wood from these forests will bring a great profit to the company, SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann said after the passage of the law.
“When it comes to clearing trees for the dam reservoir, we have seen that the forests outside of the dam reservoir in the Stung Tatai dam [in Koh Kong province] were destroyed,” Mr. Chhay said.
Energy Minister Suy Sem, who defended the law during the debate, argued that thorough studies have found fewer villagers than previously believed would be affected and that the project would generate cheaper energy for the country.
“For planned construction of the Lower Sesan 2 dam, two impact assessments have been conducted already and a number of thorough debates have been made,” Mr. Sem said. “We are not careless, and we are not hurting people.”
However, villagers living in Srekor commune, inside the designated reservoir area, reiterated yesterday that they had not been consulted. Puth Khoeun, 35, lamented the law’s passage and said the entire process had lacked transparency.
“I want to say that the government does not own the river. The river is for all,” said Mr. Khoeun. “We are the villagers most affected by the dam and this development comes without any of our direct involvement to discuss the impacts.”
“This project should have been suspended. This will stir a big anger among the affected families,” he added.
Royal Group chairman Kith Meng declined to comment. “Please talk to the ministries,” he said.
Mr. Sem gave no details on when the clearing of land or the dam construction will begin, but said that the project should be completed by 2017.
(Additional reporting by Dene-Hern Chen)
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