Royal Group Chairman Kith Meng (front L) shakes hands with Hong Guang Ming, chairman of the Chinese firm Hydrolancang International Energy Co Ltd, at a signing ceremony yesterday, Monday, Nov. 26, 2012, in Phnom Penh. Photograph: Pha Lina/Phnom Penh Post
The massive and highly controversial Lower Sesan 2 Dam project took a major step forward yesterday with the inking of government power purchase agreements and an investment deal between Royal Group and a Chinese company.
But details about the contracts, their implementation or the fate of the thousands of villagers who could be displaced by the dam remain shrouded in secrecy.
Hydrolancang International Energy Co Ltd CHINA, a subsidiary of the state-owned China Huaneng company, signed an investment Memorandum of Understanding with Cambodian tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group yesterday for an initial two-year financial injection into the group’s Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam project.
The planned dam has come under fire from groups such as International Rivers, which has said the hydropower project would be one of the most destructive in the Mekong network and the worst of the tributary projects, wrecking havoc on fisheries and the river ecosystem.
Green groups have slammed the project for a lack of transparent environmental evaluation and predict the anticipated hydropower dam will likely flop and be unable to generate the promised wattage.
Key Royal Group representatives, including Kith Meng, refused to provide any details about the MoU or the progress of the 400MW dam in Stung Treng province at yesterday’s signing ceremony at Kith Meng’s Hotel Cambodiana.
The small and perfunctory signing ceremony with HIE was followed by the inking of three agreements between government ministries and Hydropower Lower Sesan 2, Co Ltd, the joint venture at the helm of the large-scale development.
During an address given to the approximately 80 government and company representatives in attendance, Deputy Prime Minister for Economy and Finance Keat Chhon, who presided over the ceremony, announced that 100 per cent of the electricity generated by the hydropower dam would be consumed in Cambodia.
If, in the future, due to surplus generation, electricity was sold to neighbouring countries, this would only ever be a small amount, the minister added.
Representatives from the Vietnamese arm of the project were not present during the ceremony.
Further details of the signed implementation, lease and power purchase agreements were not discussed and government ministers present at the ceremony declined to respond to questions from the media.
A bevy of Cambodian beauty queens and celebrities were trotted out to the red-carpet signing, which businessmen and politicians toasted with flutes of Moët champagne.
Speaking by telephone from his wooden, thatched-roof house in Srekor commune in Stung Treng’s Sesan district, wedged between the Sesan and Srepok rivers, villager Seak Mekong said his community still had heard nothing from the businessmen in Phnom Penh about compensation for their homes.
Provincial Governor Loy Sophat and local authorities visited the Srekor and Tra Kol communes on Sunday to inform the villagers that construction of the project would begin in earnest early next year, Meach Mean of the 3S Rivers Protection Network told the Post.
The communes are slated to be flooded as part of the project.
“Most of Tra Kol community agreed to move about 15 kilometres away to a heavily forested, jungle area and most of the Srekor community agreed to move a long way away to an area beside a highway road,” Mean said.
“The provincial and local authorities invited community representatives to inspect the land from the end of this month until next year.”
However, land titling, compensation and relocation costs were still up in the air, as was the availability of electricity, water and infrastructure such as schools and hospitals at the proposed relocation areas, Mean said.
“The community agreeing to move is just a first step; there is still no other information. I think at this stage no one can really say ‘no’ anymore.”
For Seak Mekong and his fellow villagers, the lack of information flowing to the public about the project created an omnipresent sense of unease about their futures.
“I fear our living conditions will return to as it was in the Pol Pot regime. We are so poor and we have no power against [the companies building the dam],” Mekong lamented.