ADB's official offer little joy for villagers

The Nation 23 June 2000

By Kamol Sukin 

SAMUT PRAKAN – The Asian Devel­opment Bank yesterday sent two senior officials to visit the area surrounding the proposed Klong Dan wastewater treatment plant.

Bank president Tadao Chino, promised the visit to one of Thailand's most controversial ADB‑fund­ed projects, at the bank's annual meet­ing in Chiang Mai last month.

Chino promised a review of the project in the wake of massive protests. Klong Dan village leader, Chalao Thimthong, yesterday took the two ADB officials on a boat trip around coastal areas which villagers claim will be negatively affected by the pro­ject. The officials were shown large mussel farming operations, covering more than 10km of coastline.

After the tour, ADB Bangkok office resident engineer Craig Steffenson said he had no doubts about why the villagers opposed the project.

"If I were them, I might do the same thing," he said.

"I believe they are sincere in [their] opposition to the project, and they [have brought up] many reasonable points," Steffenson said during the trip.

After the boat trip, the officials were taken to the Klong Dan community, where 300 villagers waited to ftuther discuss the project.

The villagers were from two sub­districts, tambol Klong Dan and tam­bol Song Klong, near the centre of area most likely to be affected.

The bank offlcials were initially reluctant to enter discussions.

However, following guarantees of their safety, they agreed to talk to the villagers. "We are almost all female, and mostly old," said one of Klong Dan's leaders, Dawan Jandrahasadi.

"What makes you think we can hurt you? Come in and have a talk," she said. The villagers carried banners condemning the project and its poten­tial impact on their community.

As community leaders discussed the project with bank officials in the home of Klong Dan Tambol Admin­istration Office chief Narong Yordsirajina, villagers maintained a vigil outside. Some addressed the open‑air gathering, relaying their concerns about the project. Inside, the bank’s rep­resentatives relayed the ADBs official stance – that loan withdrawal was impossible.

"There are only two ways to withdraw the loan," said Steffenson. “One is that the Thai government pro­poses its withdrawal, and the other is that the ADBfinds the government has vilolated our loan agreement,” he said.

"After the protest in Chiang Mai, we reviewed both of these options and found neither was possible," Steffen­son said. 

Dawan argued the bank had rights, and authority, over the use of its own money, even if it was being channelled through the Thai government. However, Dawan said, she would not push the bank’s officials into a corner. If the representatives were limited in their decision-making ability, she said she would like them to send a message to the ADB – review the wastewater treatment project. Dawan also asked the bank to show its sincerity about a review, by pushing the Thai government to organise a public hearing about the project – and temporarily suspending construction works.

The talks would mean nothing if construction continued, she said.

“The hearing must be aired on television, so the general public can [see] our reasons for opposing this project,” she said.