Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday inaugurated the third in a string of six Chinese-funded hydropower dam projects, offering lavish praise for the superpower as he officially opened the $47 million Kirirom 3 dam in Koh Kong.
“I am really pleased for the new achievement as an addition to many existing achievements flowing from China,” Hun Sen told an assembled crowd of more than 2,000, which included villagers, the Chinese ambassador, company representatives and high-ranking government officials.
“The Chinese government has encouraged its investors to come and invest in Cambodia and Chinese private companies have the world’s most advanced hydropower dam technology, and they have strong capital investment that is not affected by the global financial crisis.”
The 18-megawatt dam, on which construction began in 2009 and completed last year, was built by State Grid Corporation of China – the world’s largest electric company. According to Minister of Industry, Mines and Energy Suy Sem, who also spoke at the inauguration, the state-owned agency retains a 30-year build-operate-transfer contract and will sell the power generated to the Kingdom at 7.91 US cents per kilowatt-hour.
Conservation groups have raised concerns about the dam since the agreement was inked in 2008, saying construction would damage an area home to an unusually large number of species.
According to International Rivers’ Southeast Asia program director, Ame Trandem, an environmental impact assessment report was issued only after the dam had been approved.
“Watching the prime minister opening this Kirirom 3 with such a happy face, we’re a little concerned. We worry the number of dams built will continue to be built without proper investigation or proper study as to the impacts,” said opposition lawmaker Son Chhay, who in parliament has repeatedly called for stricter regulation of the hydropower industry.
Chhay also questioned the lack of a transparent bidding process, noting that the price of electricity at which the state-owned companies sold it back to Cambodia was two or three times the cost of similar projects in Laos and Vietnam.
“It destroys so much environment; it affects the people, then it’s sold at this sky-rocketing price. It’s not realistic. The government needs to rethink this [policy]. They need to change the way they give permits to these Chinese companies.”
Despite the criticism, however, the government appears to have little interest in forging such a policy shift. At Saturday’s speech, Hun Sen took pains to announce even closer ties expected in the coming months.
“If there is no change [in cooperation levels], I will pay an official visit to China in April after China… changes their president and prime minister in March,” said Hun Sen.
“After that, there will be a meeting with the new Chinese leaders to address a strategy for co-operation... We will boost [bilateral co-operation] on economic, trade, investment and other sectors, particularly tourism,” said Hun Sen.
The inauguration of Kirirom 3 came just one day after the Senate signed off on a financial draft law paving the way for the controversial $781 million Sesan 2 dam in Stung Treng.
To contact the reporter on this story: Vong Sokheng at [email protected]
With assistance from Abby Seiff