Wastewater Plan Under Fire

The Nation 3 December 2000

A Canadian non-governmental organisation has written Asian Development Bank (ADB) demanding that it suspend its loan for the wastewater treatment project in Samut Prakan.

The letter from Probe International, faxed to Julian Payne, ADB's executive director in Canada, and to several Canadian government agencies, called for the launch an immediate investigation into the violation of ADB policies, contravention of Thai law and corruption.

The letter, signed Probe International's policy director Grainne Ryder, also quoted members of the communities affected by the project as saying that the ADB had violated at least six of Thailand's policies in financing US$775-million (about Bt23 billion) treatment plant. The policies violated were those on corruption, environmental assessment, involuntary resettlement, social assessment, confidentiality and good governance.

The letter said the affected villagers also suspected corruption in connection with the purchase of  the project's site.

It said the private consortium chosen by the Pollution Control Department (PCD), also the project's owner, had bought land in Klong Dan sub-district for an unclosed amount and then sold it to PCD at an inflated price.

The villagers had also made their allegations known to the National Counter Corruption Commission and ADB's Office of General Auditor.

The letter also claimed that the  project had violated the 1992 Environmental Act by changing the design and location of the project without approval from the National Environment Board and the Cabinet.

According to the letter, the ADB, as a lead financier of this project must be responsible for investigating these allegations. The ADB has already provided more than $645,000 for the project's design and an additional $330-million for the project's construction over the past 15 years.

Probe International alleged that the plant would be spreading pollutants instead of containing them because it would only be moving contaminated water from highly industrialised areas into non- contaminated areas.

The letter, deeming the plant "uneconomical and unnecessary", said it was only designed to break down bacteria not remove toxic metals or chemicals from industrial wastewater.

This is the second time that the project has faced protests an international organisation. The first complaint came from Greenpeace, which demanded that the ADB and the Thai government launch an investigation into the affair.

Meanwhile, ADB headquarters in Manila recently issued a press release calling project a "significant attempt proactively minimise pollution".

Under the project, the statement claimed, pre-treated industrial wastewater will be collected and carried to a treatment plant designed to decompose and purify up to 525,000 cubic metres of wastewater a day.

"It is an integrated approach that tackles wastewater pollution both at the source and at the final treatment point," the press release said.