Prime Minister Hun Sen used the inauguration of the Russey Chrum Krom dam in Koh Kong province yesterday to extol the virtues of Chinese investment in Cambodia’s infrastructure and dismiss environmental concerns.
The 338-megawatt Russey Chrum Krom hydropower dam is the largest dam built by Chinese companies in Cambodia, where both private and state-owned Chinese firms have invested heavily in the sector in recent years.
“It is the largest hydropower dam in Cambodia if we compare it to previous dams. For us it is the largest dam, but it is small for China,” Hun Sen said, adding that continued large-scale investment in electricity production was necessary for Cambodia to meet its development goals.
“The dam will provide great benefits to both households and businesses,” he added.
China Huadian Hong Kong Limited, a Chinese state-owned firm, invested $558 million to build the dam in 2008.
“The electricity generated from the dam will be sold to the state-owned Electricite du Cambodge for 7.35 cents per kilowatt-hour,” Hun Sen said, saying that it would add $12.5 million per year to the budget.
More than 1,000 senior government officials and villagers, including China’s ambassador Bu Jianguo, attended the opening ceremony yesterday in Koh Kong’s Mondul Seima district.
“In every conversation between myself and Chinese leaders,” Hun Sen said, “I have always appealed for Chinese investors to spend in Cambodia, especially on hydropower dams.”
“Only China has the ability and capital to invest on this scale,” he added.
Cambodia relies largely on expensive purchases of electricity from abroad to meet its growing energy needs.
“I also hope that all of the companies that benefit from access to cheaper electricity, including hotels, will use this to increase the salaries of their employees,” Hun Sen said.
The large-scale program of dam-building that began in 2005 has worried environmentalists and local communities in Cambodia that rely on natural resources, such as fisheries, to survive.
Hun Sen was quick to dismiss such environmental concerns during yesterday’s speech.
“Have there ever been development projects in the world that have no environmental impacts? The answer is ‘no’,” he said.
Also in Koh Kong province, the 108-megawatt Stung Cheay Areng dam has met stiff opposition from activists and villagers.
Yem Ponhearith, a spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said that while the CNRP supports the development of hydropower dams, there should be more transparency about the environmental impacts.
“Local people become victims because in some places the private companies did not properly respect the contracts and compensation for relocation was not appropriate.”