As the director of one of Cambodia’s largest breweries, Malaysian businessman Goh Nan Kioh has made millions selling Angkor Beer to Cambodians.
But now his latest business venture, a controversial mainstream Mekong dam in Laos, is drawing the ire of environmentalists who believe that it will be detrimental to Cambodia’s fisheries, which are the main protein source for Cambodians living downstream.
Khoo Teng Keat, executive director of Mega First Corporation Bhd—the Malaysian company in charge of building the Don Sahong dam in Laos—confirmed Wednesday that Mr. Goh is both the executive chairman of Mega First and the director for Cambodian beverage giant Cambrew Ltd., which produces the popular Angkor Beer.
“Yes, he is the same Mr. Goh for Cambrew,” Mr. Khoo said, adding that he did not see any conflict in Mr. Goh’s two business ventures, as Mr. Goh is not directly involved in Cambrew.
“Cambrew is 50 percent owned by Carlsberg, so Carlsberg is managing the place,” Mr. Khoo said. “He is a director but he doesn’t deal with the day-to-day management of Cambrew.”
According to the company’s website, Cambrew assumed control of Angkor Brewery in 1991, and has since grown to produce other beers, including Angkor Extra Stout, Black Panther and Klang Beer. Mr. Goh is also listed as the chairman of Cambrew with the Ministry of Commerce.
For Mega First, the 260-MW Don Sahong dam would be the first hydropower development undertaken by the Malaysian investment company, which has in the past focused on power plants and extractive industries.
Located about a kilometer away from the Cambodia-Laos border in an area known as Khone Falls —where islands and water channels are braided together on the Mekong mainstream—the Don Sahong dam could block the migratory passages of Mekong River fish and lead to the extinction of the Irrawaddy Dolphin and the Giant Mekong Catfish, environmentalists say.
In a 2009 study on the impact of the Don Sahong dam, Ian Baird, a professor of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said the Don Sahong’s impact on migratory fish was certain and would be irreversible.
However, Yeong Chee Neng, Mega First’s project director for the Don Sahong, said yesterday that his company is confident that the dam will not do any harm. In fact, the dam will improve the environment and facilitate better fish migration, Mr. Yeong claimed.
“I have to say that [the environmentalists] are wrong…. They don’t have any scientific evidence to back up what they say and many of them have not visited the site at all.”
Mr. Yeong explained that the main challenge facing the migratory passages of fish traveling up and down the Mekong comes from over-fishing by locals, who often set up large nets across the river.
“We will remove almost all of these barriers [nets]…and it will definitely improve the fish migration,” Mr. Yeong said. “What we aim is to have more fish, to improve the fisheries in the Mekong region.”
When asked if Mr. Goh will be making any reparations to Cambodian communities if fisheries were to be adversely impacted, Mr. Yeong dismissed the possibility.
“We are committed to make sure that things will be better, so I don’t think that this will be an issue at all.”
Neither Mr. Yeong nor Mr. Khoo would provide The Cambodia Daily with a copy of the dam’s environmental impact assessment, saying that it was the Lao government’s prerogative to release such information or not.
Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum, ridiculed Mr. Yeong’s assessment that fish could swim even more freely once the dam is built.
“How can their argument be that? That the fish can move and migrate through these bypasses? Do they have traffic lights for fish so that they can go through the bypasses?” Mr. Sam Ath asked.
Mr. Goh’s role selling beer to Cambodians through Cambrew and then threatening their fish sources through the Mega First dam was “contradictory,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
“I think we should reflect on the nature of the dam construction because this beer company already earns a lot of money [from Cambodia],” he said.
Ame Trandem, Southeast Asia program director for river advocacy group International Rivers, echoed Mr. Sam Ath’s criticisms of Mega First.
“Rather than [damage] his reputation with the Don Sahong dam and the costly impacts that are likely to be associated with it, [Mr. Goh] should protect his existing business deals and the well-being of Cambodia by pulling out of the project,” she said.