Officials involved in negotiating compensation offers between the developers of the Lower Sesan II dam and affected villagers have kept a portion of the money paid out to 12 families for themselves, according to an official.
Duong Pov, Stung Treng provincial administration director, claimed that a number of villagers who had received compensation paid 10 per cent of the money they received from the Lower Sesan II Company to his working groups as a “tip”.
“It is not a matter of cutting the compensation [that the villagers received]. I am telling you the truth, that it was the idea of the villagers, who voluntarily gave our officers the money,” he said, adding that the officials had helped villagers exaggerate claims to manipulate the compensation process.
Villagers have said the process is unclear and offers fall well below an acceptable amount relative to what they stand to lose.
“Our officers followed the villagers’ suggestion, because it also helps our Khmer citizens and they would give them [the officials] some money as a ‘tip’ or ‘thank you’. The officers did not demand 10 or 20 per cent of the compensation,” he added.
Several working group members paid back the money, he claimed, but a few kept the payments.
“We were just trying to help the villagers,” he said.
Mao Porm, project manager of the Culture and Environment Preservation Organisation, which has worked as an advocate for many of the affected communities, told a different story.
He said the villagers had been pressured into accepting lower compensation than they wanted – between $8,000 and $15,000 – and officials had taken a 10 per cent cut without consulting the families.
The three families who had rejected offers from the Lower Sesan II Company were only offered $500, he added.
Meach Mean, coordinator of the 3S Rivers Protection Network, doubted whether the provincial committee had the legal right to get involved in compensation negotiations in the first place.
“We didn’t see any sub-decree giving the authority to the provincial committee. It’s required by law,” he said.
The 400-megawatt dam will create a 36,000-hectare reservoir when it is completed, displacing almost 5,000 people.
The Ministry of Mines and Energy said last month that the dam would be completed in late 2017.