Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem on Thursday appeared before the National Assembly to address claims that companies contracted to build the 400-MW Lower Sesan II dam in Stung Treng province were clearing vast swathes of forest outside their concession zone.
National Assembly President Heng Samrin summoned Mr. Sem last month after CPP lawmaker Loy Sophat, a former governor of Stung Treng province, raised concerns in parliament that the 36,000-hectare concession zone had become a hub for “out of control” logging by powerful businessmen.
Mr. Sem on Thursday read prepared answers to five questions put to him by CPP lawmakers, none of which directly addressed the issues originally raised in May.
The minister insisted Thursday, speaking to reporters after his appearance before the National Assembly, that any illegal clearing in the catchment site was not his responsibility.
“This is not within my authority. Clearing land is the authority of the Ministry of Agriculture and collecting money from logging is the responsibility of the Ministry of Economy and Finance,” he said.
During the parliamentary questioning, Mr. Sem admitted that with every ambitious project there would be negatives, but said they were far outweighed by the benefits of the hydropower project.
“It will bring a lot of profit, if we compare with the impact,” he said, explaining that thousands of jobs would be created while Cambodia would greatly increase its electricity supply.
Cambodian conglomerate Royal Group—chaired by Kith Meng, a tycoon with close ties to Prime Minister Hun Sen—and China’s Hydrolancang International Energy are constructing the dam. A subsidiary of Royal Group, Ang & Associates Lawyer Co. Ltd., was given the contract to clear the reservoir area.
Amid allegations the companies were plundering forests around the reservoir, only Loak Kheng, a CPP lawmaker from Phnom Penh, alluded to logging. Yet she referred only to the bidding process for clearing forest in the concession zone—not to illegal logging by companies outside the area.
“I congratulate his Excellency [Mr. Sem] and his officials for attending here. It is a real show of his willingness to stand up to his responsibilities and also shows the world—and the people—that our National Assembly is accountable to the people,” Ms. Kheng said.
Mr. Sem spent the remainder of the two-and-a-half-hour question-and-answer session describing in detail the Lower Sesan II project, from its genesis in 2004 to the amount of power it is expected to produce when complete.