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Lawmakers Updated on Major Dam on Mekong Tributaries

Local workers adjust stones at a dam construction site, file photo.
Local workers adjust stones at a dam construction site, file photo.
Ruling party lawmakers at the National Assembly held a hearing Thursday for an update on a major dam on the Sesan and Srepok rivers in Stung Treng province.

The lawmakers questioned Suy Sem, the Minister of Mining and Industry, for much of a two and a half hour session, in a hearing that was aimed at oversight but that contained little criticism of the project overall.

Environmental groups say the Lower Sesan 2 Dam, costing $816 million, will be an ecological threat to two of the Mekong River’s largest tributaries and a social threat to the people who live nearby.

The dam is a joint development between EVN International, from Vietnam, and the Royal Group, of Cambodia. It is expected to produce 400 megawatts of power and be completed in 2017.

Critics of the dam say it will affect tens of thousands of people in nearly 80 villages in Stung Treng and will hurt the migrations of fish in a country that relies heavily on them for protein.

Fifty-seven lawmakers, all from the Cambodian People’s Party, attended the session.

Hun Neng, a lawmaker from Kampong Cham province, asked whether the ministry or the development company had done enough to compensate people displaced by the dam. “What have you done?” he asked. “Please show evidence.”

Suy Sem said that each of the nearly 800 families expected to be moved by the dam and its reservoir would be offered five hectares of farmland elsewhere as a resettlement package.

“We have spent nearly 10 years working on this project,” he said. “That means we have done a lot of things to ensure that everything is OK before we start. And there is no such dam project that has zero effects on the environment. But we have to think of it as a whole and how we are going to benefit.”

Lawmaker Loak Kheng asked whether money from the timber cut down for the dam has been put in the national budget—a question Suy Sem said he could not answer. But he said the dam will be a cheap source of electricity and will create jobs.

Absent from Thursday’s hearing were lawmakers from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, who have boycotted the Assembly since the July 2013 elections.

Rescue Party spokesman Yem Bonharith said Thursday the hearing was ineffective.

“They stand up and ask pre-prepared questions,” he said. “And then they stand up to answer questions they have already prepared.”