Opposition CNRP lawmaker Pol Ham on Monday said he will visit the site of a proposed hydropower dam in Koh Kong province on Monday with colleagues from his parliamentary commission before they quiz government officials about the controversial project later this month.
If built, the 108-megawatt Stung Chhay Areng dam would flood thousands of hectares in the protected Cardamom Mountains, including critical wildlife habitats. The project is opposed by the hundreds of ethnic Chong families who would also have to give up their ancestral lands to make way for the reservoir.
The government insists the project will only go ahead if cleared by environmental and social impact assessments, which are in the works. But Chong villagers and the NGOs helping them believe the government will green-light construction regardless of what the assessments conclude. A Chinese construction firm recently announced it had already signed a contract with the firm behind the dam, China’s Sinohydro Resources.
“Based on what we hear from the villagers there, we don’t want to see this project move forward because it will affect the environment and the agriculture, and culture of the villagers in the area,” said Mr. Ham, who chairs the National Assembly’s environment and rural development commission.
“However, in the name of the parliament’s third commission, we need to go and check the site.”
He said all nine members of his commission were invited on the trip but did not know how many of them would join.
Mr. Ham said he hoped to use whatever they learn during the excursion to inform the commission’s planned question-and-answer session about the project with representatives from the Ministry of Environment and Ministry of Agriculture, scheduled for November 24 and 27, respectively.
While officials at both ministries have verbally expressed their intentions to send representatives to the meetings, he said, they have not done so yet in writing.
Environment Minister Say Sam Al said Monday that he received the commission’s request and would honor it. “If we are called, we must go,” he said.
Mr. Sam Al declined to comment further and referred additional questions to his cabinet chief, Sao Sopheap, who could not be reached. Agriculture Minister Ouk Rabun also could not be reached.
In Kongcheth, provincial monitor for rights group Licadho, said he welcomed Mr. Ham’s visit.
“It will be good for him to go there because he will be able to study and understand what’s going on,” he said.