Xayaburi dam fight stepped up

Bangkok Post 8 December 2011

By Mongkol Bangprapa

Protesters ask for public hearing on the impacts

Xayaburi dam protesters in eight provinces plan to petition the Administrative Court to revoke a Thai-Laos contract on joint usage of electricity produced by the dam on the Mekong River.

Calling themselves the "people network" in the Mekong basin, the group took to the streets after the Mekong River Commission (MRC) began a three-day meeting in Cambodia yesterday to discuss the controversial project.

The network said it disagreed with what it claimed was a "non-publicised" cabinet resolution in June that allowed the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand to sign a contract with Vientiane on electricity usage because the project has yet to go through a complete public hearing process in Thailand.

"When we learned the government had Egat sign the joint contract without announcing it, we decided to petition the court immediately," said network leader Itthiphon Khamsuk, who was informed of the resolution yesterday morning as his group was petitioning the government to hold a public hearing.

He blamed the government for pushing the project ahead without listening to input from people in the provinces that would likely be affected by the dam. The public hearing did "not follow the correct and complete procedures" as required by the Constitution, he said.

Although environment ministers from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam will discuss the dam at the ongoing MRC meeting, Mr Itthiphon said his group would not wait for the results because the project should be stopped.

The network yesterday petitioned two Senate committees to support a proposal to delay the project for 10 years.

Senate natural resource and environment committee chairman Surachai Liaobunloetchai said his committee and the Senate committee on education and corruption scrutiny will ask the government to clarify project details.

Although the dam will be built in Laos, the project should follow Thai laws, including a mandatory public hearing because Thailand will be the main beneficiary of the project. He said Laos had contracted with Thailand's Ch Karnchang to build the dam. Four Thai banks are the project's financial sources and Egat would buy 95% of the electricity produced by the dam, Mr Surachai said.

The 1,260-megawatt dam's future is uncertain. Officials at an April 19 meeting of the MRC approved a resolution requiring further study of the dam's potential impact on the Mekong River.

Vietnam and Cambodia are worried about the dam's impact on their crops, especially rice, because of fears over reduced water flow into the two countries.