Conservationists warn of a lack of transparency, saying operation to widen Mekong River should have undergone public consultation
LOCAL developer Brothers Investment Group (BIG) has been granted permission from the Phnom Penh Autonomous Port and two government ministries to dredge the Mekong and build barriers along the riverside, in a massive project to make the waterway more accessible to large boats.
But conservationists say the US$300 million operation was never put to public scrutiny and did not appear to have enough authorisation from the government.
BIG has obtained permits from the ministries of Water Resources and Public Works and Transport, as well as from the port, which will "manage this project in co-operation [with BIG]", according to a document signed by port director Hei Bavy.
"This development plan ... will turn this area into an economic zone," the document said. "Especially to prevent the threat from flooding during the rainy season."
Another letter signed by Deputy Prime Minister Seng Lim Nauv says the Brothers Group would "manage and extend the port operation zone from Chaktomuk to Neak Leung and Chaktomuk-Tonle Bat along the Mekong River".
A third letter signed by Senate President Chea Sim states that the project would include "develop[ing a] caisson wall to prevent the continued soil erosion on [the] Mekong and Bassac River."
The project would be supported by World Link Japan and the Development Bank of Japan, according to documents.
But an official from a leading conservation group said that environmental and civil society organisations had not been notified of the dredging project.
OUR NUMBER-ONE CONCERN IS IMPROVING PEOPLE’S LIVES WITH THIS PROJECT
"We have heard rumours about a dredging operation, but have seen nothing disclosed so far.... A project of this scope would definitely require public consultation," said the official, who did not want to be named. "We know that there is a broader plan to dredge the [Mekong] to support the mining industry in the north and allow large container ships to travel up the river....There has been no transparency around these operation."
Documents seen by the Post contained no permit from the Ministry of Environment, which the conservationist said would be required for a project involving major dredging operations in the Mekong.
A spokesman for Kennertec, a Korean mining company with a concession in Preah Vihear province, said that plans have been afoot to dredge the Mekong, but that they involve Hyundai Group and not BIG.
BIG chairman David Chanaiwa was not available for comment, but in an interview last week, he said that his company had carefully studied the environmental impact of the dredging project, and had produced an environmental impact assessment.
"Our number-one concern is improving people's lives with this project," he said. Chanaiwa said that erosion from dredging the river is a serious concern for his company and he urged the government to allocate $300 million to reinforce the banks.
Port director Hei Bavy said in an earlier interview that the port would partner with the government and private companies to dredge the Mekong. The project would involve digging a seven -metre channel and clearing about five million cubic metres of sand, he told the Post.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KAY KIMSONG