Government Official Dismisses Sesan Dam Report

The dissemination on Wednesday of a report on the estimated entitlements for thousands of families set to be displaced by a massive hydropower project in Stung Treng province descended into a debate over the document’s legitimacy, with a government representative dismissing it entirely.

Led by Kem Ley, founder of the Khmer for Khmer advocacy group, researchers surveyed 400 families whose homes will be flooded when the 400-megawatt Lower Sesan 2 goes online in 2017 and found that each household qualified for more than $100,000 in compensation.

“This survey found that compensation should be an average of USD 108,126 for each household plus cost for relocation ceremony, cost for economic opportunity loss, and burial and spiritual land in each community,” the report says.

Compensation offers made to the 5,000-odd residents set to be displaced have been far from transparent. Some have reportedly taken cash payouts of between $8,000 and $20,000, while land packages also remain on offer. Among the relocation sites being set up, one is 25 km from the dam.

At a workshop in Phnom Penh to disseminate and discuss the report, commissioned by the NGO Forum on Cambodia, Ith Praing, a secretary of state at the Mines and Energy Ministry, said the dam was 40 percent complete before attempting to discredit Mr. Ley’s findings.

“This research was not independent. I think this document should not be released because it has no clear basis and is not based on the truth,” he said, before taking aim at the report’s figure for the average monthly income of each household surveyed: $387.

“How did they calculate that income? What is the basis? Where did it come from?”

Mr. Ley said the report was based on information collected from villagers—including the costs of their homes, farmland, crops and livestock—conceding a 5 percent margin of error.

“We just analyzed data the villagers provided us,” he said, noting that 90 percent of the respondents had called for the dam project to be scrapped.

Mr. Praing responded that while some families had asked authorities for the dam wall to be shorter than planned, “no one is against the development of the dam.”

“There has not been a country in the world that has developed without electricity,” he said.

The Lower Sesan 2 is a joint project between local conglomerate Royal Group and Chinese firm Hydrolancang International Energy. It will block two key tributaries of the Mekong River—the Sesan and Srepok rivers—to devastating environmental effect, according to experts.

At the workshop on Wednesday, Pha Vy, a 58-year-old ethnic Bunong farmer, said she would not accept any compensation, as this would mean abandoning the graves of her parents.

“If I move to the relocation site and their graves are flooded, we will be cursed to live without happiness,” she said.

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