Laos Steamrolls Neighbors in Xayaburi Dam Process

International Rivers
Thursday, June 23, 2011

For Immediate Release

Government Unilaterally Claims Regional Consultation Process Complete

Bangkok, Thailand: Laos appears to have defied its neighbors in a move to press ahead with the proposed Xayaburi Dam on the Mekong Mainstream, despite concerns raised by neighboring governments and regional civil society groups. A letter leaked to International Rivers, dated June 8, 2011, reveals that 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.

The MRC itself, however, is yet to officially announce the regional process as complete. Previously, at a Special Joint Committee Meeting on April 19, the four member governments agreed to defer the decision on the project to a Ministerial level meeting, likely to take place in October or November 2011. At this Special Joint Committee meeting, whilst Laos proposed to proceed with the dam, 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.

The procedures of the MRC's regional process clearly state in Article 5.4.3 that ‘The MRC [Joint Committee] shall aim to arriving at an agreement on the proposed use and issue a decision that contains the agreed upon conditions.' "By deciding unilaterally that the regional decision-making process is complete, the Government of Laos has committed an egregious breach of trust and has joined the ranks of rogue nations," said Ms. Ame Trandem, Mekong Campaigner with International Rivers.

The letter written by the Director-General of Laos' Ministry of Energy and Mines to the Xayaburi Power Company Limited 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."

Conclusion of the PNPCA process is a prerequisite to the Xayaburi Dam developers signing a Power Purchase Agreement with the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, which the company is now seeking.

"Laos has no entitlement to unilaterally declare the end of the PNPCA process at this stage," said Ms. 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."

On April 23, at a meeting in Phnom Penh, the Prime Ministers of Vietnam and Cambodia jointly expressed concern about the Xayaburi Dam's transboundary impacts to fisheries and agriculture. Subsequently, at the 18th ASEAN summit in Jakarta on 7 May 2011, the Lao Prime Minister agreed to a request by Vietnam's Prime Minister to temporarily suspend the Xayaburi Dam and commission a review of the project's documents by an international consultancy firm under the framework of the MRC.

Laos' Ministry of Energy and Mines had publicly confirmed that the study had been commissioned, yet no further details of the study nor the role of the MRC in this process was announced to the public. It now appears that the study was a cursory, one-month review of the PNPCA process and not a review of the environmental and social impacts of the project.

"It's no surprise that the Pöyry Group was selected to review the Xayaburi Dam given their long history of dodgy deals that have allowed disastrous dams to proceed in the Mekong region," said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator for International Rivers. "But it's outrageous that Laos would stoop so low as to place its consultants' opinions above its neighbors concerns. The extensive scientific evidence that demonstrates the dam's severe social and environmental impacts should no longer be ignored, and the Xayaburi Dam should be cancelled."

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