Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NGOs call out holes in EIA law

NGOs call out holes in EIA law

Fishermen that would be affected by the proposed Areng Valley hydropower project
Fishermen that would be affected by the proposed Areng Valley hydropower project fish in the Mekong River in 2012. Civil society and NGOs are concerned with a new draft law that would see indigenous groups unable to oppose unsustainable development projects. INTERNATIONAL RIVERS

NGOs call out holes in EIA law

The Ministry of Environment is close to finalising a draft environmental impact analysis (EIA) law for development projects, but NGOs and civil society groups raised concerns that the draft law, as it stands, prevents indigenous people who live on the land from opposing such projects.

Speaking at a national consultation workshop in Phnom Penh to garner feedback on the draft law, NGOs and rights groups said that while the article assures indigenous groups a “free, prior and informed consent” process, it also allows projects to go ahead in the case of a disagreement.

Markus Hardtke, Southeast Asia program coordinator for German conservation group ARA, said there seems to be a battle within this draft between promoting sustainable development in Cambodia and the creation of another administrative tool or income-generating instrument for the ministry.

“There has to be a ‘no project’ option, otherwise you do not have a serious implementation of sustainable development. You cannot decide for whatever reason that the project has to go ahead and you mitigate and tinker at the edges to make it look a little better,” Hardtke said.

The free, prior and informed consent principle under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, says indigenous people shall not be forcefully removed from their land without consent and fair compensation.

After questions were raised about the contradictions in the article, Danh Serey, director at the Department of EIA, said the clause will be reviewed.

Another contentious part of the draft was article 4, which says the law does not apply to state development projects and activities that relate to national security, sovereignty or disaster management.

Serey said that further clarification on the kind of projects this would entail will be subject to a sub-decree that will be issued at a later date.

Speaking at the workshop earlier, Environment Minister Say Samal said the law, once approved, will be an indicator for the government to make better decisions before approving development projects.

“The new Environmental Impact Assessment Law marks an important shift to a more transparent and accountable environmental management,” Samal said in his opening remarks. “With this new law, we will be able to ensure that all future development complies with the government’s nature conservation and environmental protection standards.”

The EIA draft law has been in development since 2011, and will incorporate elements of a sub-decree on Environmental Impact Assessment Process issued in 1999.

Yesterday’s conference included private sector and civil society participation, aiming to gain feedback on a law that will cover EIAs for projects, including hydro dams, investments at economic land concessions and construction projects.

Having an EIA law in place is one thing, but implementation of the law is another thing, said Srey Chanthy, independent economic analyst.

“Uplifting the EIA sub-decree to a law and making it more comprehensive is great. But paper on the shelf is never good; implementation and enforcement has to be in tandem,” he said.

Stephen Higgins, managing partner of Cambodia-based investment firm Mekong Strategic Partners, said the draft law is a positive step for the investment environment in Cambodia and attracting quality projects.

“Investors who are put off by this law are probably the type of investors that Cambodia doesn’t want in the long term. It doesn’t necessarily mean that projects won’t go ahead, but they will need to take into account local communities and environmental issues,” he said.

Tek Vannara, executive director of NGO Forum and a participant at the workshop, said this law will push investors to be more transparent on the impact of their operations to the ecosystem.

“The gap of imbalance over conservation and development is still big, especially with joint-ventures between local and international investors, which mostly focus on natural resources. Some companies have no standard on resettlement and compensation,” he said.

MOST VIEWED

  • Would you like fries with that? US burger chain makes Phnom Penh debut

    California-based The Habit Burger Grill restaurant chain is all set to serve up a delicious array of charbroiled burgers and sides at its newest international location in the centre of Phnom Penh. The Habit is “renowned for its award-winning Charburgers grilled over an open flame,

  • Angkor provides ‘valuable’ water storage

    The Apsara National Authority (ANA) has stored millions of cubic metres of water at reservoirs in the Angkor area after Cambodia experienced a series of rainstorms over the last few days. The storing of the water, besides serving temple conservation, will also be used to

  • Banteay Meanchey flood victims receive aid

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday provided aid to more than 10,000 families affected by flooding in Banteay Meanchey province’s Mongkol Borei district and offered his condolences to the 18 victims who drowned in the province over the past week. He said flooding had occured in

  • Banteay Meanchey floods kill one more as death toll reaches 15

    As floodwaters start to recede in Pursat, Battambang and Pailin provinces and Phnom Penh, Banteay Meanchey continues to bear the brunt as one more person was killed on Monday, bringing the total number of flood-related deaths to 15 in the province this month. Banteay Meanchey provincial

  • Floods prompt evacuations in Kampong Speu

    Rain-induced floods and water flowing from Kampong Speu province have submerged the houses of 1,527 families living close to the Prek Thnot River in Spean Thma, Tien, Kong Noy and Roluos communes in Phnom Penh’s Dangkor district, according to data from local authorities. Spean Thma

  • Serving coffee with a side of robots

    The eye-catching glass building surrounded by greenery at the intersection of Streets 371 and 2002 in Phnom Penh’s Sen Sok district is more than just another coffee shop where you can while away a few hours. UrHobby House cafe is filled with robots and characters from