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Report slams dam payouts

A woman gazes over the construction site of the controversial Lower Sesan II dam earlier this year in Sesan district of Stung Treng province.
A woman gazes over the construction site of the controversial Lower Sesan II dam earlier this year in Sesan district of Stung Treng province. Heng Chivoan

Report slams dam payouts

Households displaced by the massive Lower Sesan II hydropower dam project in Stung Treng province are being under-compensated by as much as $80,000, according to a new study.

The research, published by the Rivers Coalition of Cambodia and led by political aspirant Kem Ley, found that on average, households in the affected area had been offered $17,250 in compensation.

However, at market rates as assessed by the research team, Ley found that each household should be compensated on average $108,126 to account for lost land, income and property.

The study also found that almost 93 per cent of the 378 villagers surveyed remained steadfast in their opposition to the dam and called for the project to be cancelled, while only 7.1 per cent agreed with the dam, and then only if the compensation offered was “fair”.

The report, which was commissioned by the NGO Forum, recommended that the project be scrapped and the area turned into what would become the world’s largest eco-tourism site. “The rights of communities have been violated, and economic, social and environmental impacts have not been properly addressed,” it reads.

In addition to the $108,126 it estimated the average property loss to be, the report suggested an extra $6,000 should be paid for loss of incomes and a relocation ceremony, as well as 8 hectares of new land for burial grounds and protected forests for each community.

However, the report’s methodology did not address how the values for property and lost income were arrived at or the qualifications of the research team to assess local property prices.

“The important thing is that they [affected communities] maintain their own traditions, customs . . . so they do not want to leave,” Ley said.

“The government demands they leave, so they will deal with those who want to stay. These people aren’t poor and some have two houses. So if we offer the same compensation to both poorer and richer, it won’t be fair.”

A representative of the Hydropower Lower Sesan 2 Company and Duong Pov, deputy governor in Stung Treng province, rejected the report’s findings yesterday.

“We think the findings of the NGO Forum on Cambodia . . . are totally not acceptable, because these findings are not made on scientific grounds and [are] without verification,” said Ren Zhonghua, secretary of the board of directors of the dam company, which is a joint venture between tycoon Kith Meng’s Royal Group and China’s Hydrolancang International.

Pov meanwhile said the research would “confuse people about government policy”, adding that the dam was already 40 per cent completed.

Ith Praing, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Mines and Energy, said the survey was “biased towards the researchers’ viewpoint”.

Ley, however, said the margin of error for the research was 5 per cent.

Community representative Srey Lybi welcomed the study’s findings, saying many who had accepted lower compensation offers were left disappointed.

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