Mekong River Commission Comes Under Fire

Fergal Quinn
Friday, March 28, 2008

Article from The Cambodia Daily

    On the eve of an official visit by Prime Minister Hun Sen to Laos to discuss the implications of the planned Don Sahong dam on the Mekong River mainstream there, a group of NGOs accused the Mekong River Commission of failing in its duties.

    In a letter to Jeremy Bird, the newly-appointed Chief Executive Officer of the MRC Secretariat, 51 NGOs and individuals from the six Mekong countries challenged him to solve what they called the organization's crisis of legitimacy and relevancy.

    This has been exemplified, they wrote, by the MRC's failure to respond to NGO concerns over plans to dam the lower Mekong mainstream in as many as eight locations in Thailand, Laos and Cambodia to generate electricity.

    Mak Sitharith, executive director of the Fishery Action Coalition Team, one of the groups who co-signed the letter to the MRC's CEO, said on Thursday that it was intended to again raise the concerns of civil society over lower Mekong mainstream dams.

    "The MRC is failing to combat these dams and help preserve the river for all the countries affected," he said, adding that concerns being raised by civil society were not being taken seriously.

    "The MRC seems to behaving like a governmental agency and not an intra governmental organization," he added.

    Secretary General of the National Mekong River Committee Pich Dun said Thursday that concerns over the dams on the mainstream had also been raised by MRC officials in meetings with officials in the affected countries.

    "The countries that want to build the dams are doing so for the purpose of economic development and poverty reduction," he said. "The MRC have to address this issue too when they bring up problems with them."

    Hun Sen, along with Foreign Minister Hor Namhong and Commerce Minister Cham Prasidh will be visiting Laos from March 28 to March 30 and the delegation will discuss Don Sahong, said Chin Bunthoeun, director of the Information and Documentation Department at the Foreign Ministry.

    In February the Laos government signed a Project Development Agreement with Mega First Corporation Berhad, bringing the construction of the 240-megawatt Don Sahong dam near the Cambodian border a significant step closer to reality.

    The dam plan has alarmed Cambodian officials and environmental groups alike, who worry that it would seriously harm the rich downstream fisheries on which Cambodia depends.

    Earlier this week, it was reported in the Vientiane Times that the Thai and Lao governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding to allow a private company, which was not named, to study the proposed 1,800 MW Ban Kum dam located on the Thailand-Laos border.

    Experts have claimed that this $2.5 billion dam in Thailand's Ubon Ratchathani province, the biggest currently planned for the lower Mekong, would also have grave implications for hundreds of thousands of Laotians and Cambodians living downstream from it.

    Premrudee Daoroung, director of the Thailand-based organization Foundation for Ecological Recovery, said in a media statement Thursday that the MRC must clearly state what steps the organization will take in response to widespread concerns.

    "It can start by immediately releasing to the public all analyses relating to the Don Sahong dam undertaken by the MRC," he wrote.

    Minister for Water Resources and Meteorology and sitting chairman of the MRC Lim Kean Hor could not be reached for comment Thursday.

    (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul)