PR – Flawed Consultation Rubber Stamp for Don Sahong Dam

Ame Trandem
Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Fishing near the Don Sahong Dam site
Pianporn Deetes

Bangkok, Thailand:The Mekong River Commission (MRC) will hold a regional public consultation meeting tomorrow for the Don Sahong Hydropower Dam in Pakse, Laos.  As part of the MRC’s Prior Consultation process for the second proposed Mekong mainstream dam, International Rivers is concerned that the meeting is one more box to check within a regional consultation process which is already shown to be broken; and will be used by the Government of Laos to legitimize a project which is already under construction.

“The Government of Laos has clearly stated that they intend to proceed with the Don Sahong Dam, in spite of the ongoing Prior Consultation process,” said Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia Program Director for International Rivers. “With this attitude it is difficult to see how the process can be anything more than a rubber-stamp for the dam. We fear that Laos will try to use the regional public consultation as a way to further validate their actions and unilaterally move forward with this destructive project, under the guise of regional cooperation.”

The legitimacy of the MRC’s Prior Consultation process for the Don Sahong Dam has been called into question by civil society groups since before it was even first agreed upon at the MRC Council meeting in June, where in the same announcement, the Government of Laos said that they would submit the Don Sahong Dam for Prior Consultation and “continue to develop the project.”  The official start date for the six-month consultation process, July 25th, was then only decided upon by the four governments at the beginning of October, when the process was nearly half-way over. Meanwhile, construction at the site of the Don Sahong Dam had begun well before this announcement took place, along with continued negotiations over the project’s engineering, procurement and construction agreement, without consideration for the 1995 Mekong Agreement’s stipulations that project implementation should begin only after the Prior Consultation process is complete.

Under the 1995 Mekong Agreement, the Prior Consultation procedures are meant to provide an opportunity for neighboring countries to evaluate a project’s transboundary impacts, with the objective of reaching agreement between all four countries over how to proceed. Despite claims by the MRC CEO Mr. Hans Guttman that “prior consultation is not a process to seek approval for a proposed project,” the Agreement requires all four governments to make a “good faith” effort to reach agreement based on both upstream and downstream interests.  The Agreement states that the process is “neither a right to veto the use nor unilateral right to use water by any riparian without taking into account’s other riparian’s rights.”  

“The Prior Consultation process for the Don Sahong Dam has been set up to fail – visibly following the same pattern as the Xayaburi Dam,” said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand Campaign Coordinator for International Rivers. “Significant questions remain about the transboundary impacts of the project, the quality of the studies done and the feasibility and success of its proposed mitigation measures. Until there is sufficient information and understanding about the project’s implications to the region, how can neighboring countries be expected to meaningfully evaluate the project? Furthermore, if after thorough consultation, Mekong countries and their citizens maintain concern and opposition to the project, there must be space to agree that the dam should not proceed. We believe that meaningful consultation is imperative for decision-making regarding the future of the Mekong River, however such consultations must be used as a basis for decision-making about the project, rather than simply a box to check.”

Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam have all expressed concern about the potential impacts of the Don Sahong Dam. At the Second MRC Summit in April, Cambodia and Vietnam called for the Don Sahong Dam to be delayed in order to allow for a transboundary impact assessment to be carried out, as well as the completion of region-wide studies focused on the impacts of the cascade of eleven dams planned for the mainstream of the Mekong, to be first completed. Laos has not shown any evidence of taking these concerns into account.

“The MRC has a responsibility to represent the interests of all four Mekong countries and to foster regional cooperation,” said Ame Trandem. “To date, they have failed to confront the fact that Laos is making unilateral decisions at the cost of other Mekong countries. The current situation means that the Prior Consultation procedures have become nothing more than an empty concession. If standards for consultation and precedents for regional cooperation are not established, then history risks repeating itself again and again, with serious consequences to lives and livelihoods in the Mekong. Before regional cooperation over the shared river is further undermined, procedural reform is urgently required and Mekong leaders must uphold their responsibility to protect the Mekong River’s future sustainability.”

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