Ministries concerned were told to intensify action to manage hydropower projects to prevent poor quality development of dams and potential disasters following a deadly collapse of a dam in southern Laos in 2018.

Addressing a meeting in the southern Attapeu province on Monday, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Bounthong Chitmany told the ministries to amend existing and formulate new regulations on energy and environment and properly enforce them.

He asked the Ministry of Energy and Mines to intensify inspections and monitoring of both under-construction and completed hydropower projects across the country.

The inspections are to ensure that construction projects meet recognised standards in accordance with the approved designs and concession agreements the investors made with the government.

The move is to “guarantee the safety of the projects and not impact the environment”, Dr Bounthong, who is also chairman of the Government Inspection Authority (GIA), told the meeting.

If problems were found during the inspections, authorities in charge were told to coordinate with the relevant companies (project developers) to address the issues right away.

Dr Bounthong told the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment to exert greater effort in re-inspecting and re-monitoring social and environmental impact assessment plans by the projects.

“Inspections should take place at project sites,” he told the participating ministers and relevant officials.

The meeting was part of his working tour to the southern province, which also brought him to Attapeu’s Sanamxay district to observe the progress made to rehabilitate and assist people impacted by flash floods following the collapse of saddle dam D at the Xepian-Xenamnoy hydropower project in 2018.

Sanamxay has a 40km border with Cambodia along the Sekong River, which makes up the northwestern boundary of Siem Pang district’s Santepheap commune in the Kingdom’s Stung Treng province.

Participants drew lessons learnt from the 2018 disaster, which killed dozens of villagers and left thousands homeless. The investigation found that the collapse was not considered as “force majeure”.

GIA vice-chairman Synai Mienglavanh told the meeting there needed to be improved warning systems given the improper coordination among all stakeholders – the dam developers, central and local authorities – before the collapse of the dam.

Dr Bounthong told the ministries concerned to ensure that all projects have employed modern warning systems and emergency response plans so that local people living downstream of hydropower projects are safe when emergency events take place.

He asked ministries and local authorities concerned to attach great responsibility to considering and approving hydropower investment proposals in line with the appropriate technical procedures and laws.

“Avoid relaying information provided solely by the projects’ owners and companies,” he said.

He called for ministries to coordinate with authorities in Attapeu province and Sanamxay district as well as the Xepian-Xenamnoy hydropower project developers to re-inspect and expedite the resettlement of people impacted by the 2018 dam collapse to normalise their livelihoods.

The authorities were told to inspect and ensure that aid and compensation money were spent transparently on the victims.