Friday, August 22, 2008

Irregularities suspected over push for dam


Irregularities suspected over push for dam


Senators and environmentalists suspect irregularities involving the planned construction of the 120-billion-baht hydro-power dam on the Mekong river being pushed by the Samak Sundaravej administration.

Their focus is on the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between former foreign minister Noppadon Pattama and the Laotian deputy prime minister and foreign minister in March to jointly build the dam on the world's 12th longest river.

They say the signing of the MoU bypassed parliamentary approval and the government had failed to take into account public participation, particularly villagers affected by the dam construction.

Mr Noppadon also agreed with the Laotian proposal to commission Italian-Thai Development Plc to conduct the feasibility study of the project without holding a proper bidding contest as required under Thai law.

Senator Prasarn Marukpitak, who chairs a senate panel probing alleged irregularities involving the Ban Koum dam project, yesterday submitted a motion against Foreign Minister Tej Bunnag, asking him to explain why the government had signed the MoU so hastily with Laos.

The MoU was signed on Mar 25_less than two months after the Samak cabinet took office.

Mr Tej said the project was in line with the two governments' previous agreement to develop hydro-power plants in the Mekong river basin which would help secure economic development in both countries.

''The electricity produced by the dam would help boost Laos' income, and at the same time, increase Thailand's energy supply,'' he said.

Regarding the selection of Italian-Thai Development Plc to conduct the feasibility study without following state regulations and procedures laid down for contracting private firms, Mr Tej said this should not cause any damage to the country because the firm agreed to conduct the study free of charge.

The foreign minister, however, said the two countries were still a long way off from deciding whether the dam should be built. The final decision, he said, would be made after the firm completes its feasibility and environment and health impact assessment studies, expected to take around 30 months.

The dam, if built, would be the first on the lower Mekong river.

Villagers living along the Mekong river banks in Ubon Ratchathani's Khong Chiam district, where the dam would be built, have protested against the construction for fear it would destroy their livelihood and the fragile ecology of the river.

Proposed by the Department of Alternative Energy Development and Efficiency in 2005, the dam will be built on the Mekong river in Thalong village of Khong Chiam district, opposite Koum Noi village in Champassak province of Laos.

It is expected to produce 1,872 megawatts of electricity.

The dam's reservoir is expected to inundate over 84,000 rai of farmland and Mekong riverside communities in Khong Chiam and Khemarat districts.

Some riverside areas in Laos would be submerged as well.

According to Pitpibul Lakhonwong, deputy headman of Thalong village, the dam would uproot everything they have if the project is implemented.

The villagers might face forced relocation as the village would be turned into a huge construction site.

The dam will completely destroy the Mekong river, which means the destruction of the villagers' livelihood as they were dependent on fisheries and riverside agricultural activities, he said.

''We are very happy with our life today. We are not rich, but we have abundant food. Our village is small, but it is peaceful. We don't want the dam,'' he said.

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