NGO slams Lao Govt on Xayaburi proceeding

The Nation 23 June 2011

The International Rivers, a group of activists against the construction of the gigantic Xayaburi Dam, bombarded the Lao government's attempt to press ahead with the proposed dam project despite concerns by neighbouring governments and regional civic groups.

Referring to a letter leaked to International Rivers, dated June 8, it said the Lao Government has informed the Xayaburi project developer Ch Karnchang that the Mekong River Commission's (MRC) regional decision-making process is now complete, presumably giving Ch Karnchang the green light to proceed with the project.

According to International Rivers, the letter written by the Director-General of Laos' Ministry of Energy and Mines to the Xayaburi Power Co Ltd, a subsidiary of Ch Karnchang refers to a one-month study by the international consultancy group Pöyry. The letter states that in Pöyry's view the "Prior Consultation of the Xayaburi Project has now been completed," and that the Lao government "hereby confirm[s] that any necessary step in relation to the 1995 Mekong Agreement has been duly taken."

"Laos has no entitlement to unilaterally declare the end of the PNPCA process at this stage," said Sor Rattanamanee Polkla, a Thai Lawyer from the Community Resource Center and member of the Mekong Legal Network. "Chapter 2 of the 1995 Mekong Agreement makes it clear that the regional decision-making process is 'neither a right to veto the use nor unilateral right to use water by any riparian without taking into account other riparians' rights'. The three other lower Mekong countries asked for the project to be delayed for further study, including a trans-boundary Environmental Impact Assessment. Laos has an obligation under international law to both conduct such an EIA and negotiate in good faith under the Mekong Agreement before moving forward."

Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam called for an extension to the decision-making process citing concerns about transboundary impacts and knowledge gaps requiring further study and consultation. Vietnam also recommended that the decision on the Xayaburi Dam and other proposed mainstream dams be deferred for a period of ten years.

Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand Governor Sutas Patamasiriwat earlier this week said that Ch Karnchang affirms that the project's commercial commencement should start in 2019 as scheduled.