Premier Rebukes Official Over Tonle Sap Dams

Prime Minister Hun Sen has told the former governor of Kom­pong Thom province that his re­cent de­fense of unlawful reservoirs built in­side the Tonle Sap lake is “unacceptable” and amounts to insubordination.

In a blunt note sent last week, Mr Hun Sen told the province’s for­mer governor Nam Tum, who is currently chairman of the pro­vincial council, to review his comments against government orders to de­molish the massive reservoirs, which have been built for dry season rice farming and fish breeding, but which environmentalist say are harming the Tonle Sap lake.

“Please Your Excellency review your speech…relating to water re­servoirs in Kompong Thom pro­vince,” Mr Hun Sen wrote in a March 17 handwritten message addressed to Nam Tum.

“If in this publication is really the speech of Your Excellency, in fact, we are likely having a state within the state and I could not accept it, because the decision is my decision,” the prime minister said.

In an interview given earlier this month, Mr Tum criticized reports by the ministries of water resources and agriculture, which urged the state to demolish the reservoirs that the ministries said harmed natural migratory patterns of fish and disturbed spawning grounds.

There are more than 100 such reservoirs built on the edges of the Tonle Sap flood plain in Kompong Thom and Siem Reap provinces without government permission, according to one of the reports sent to Mr Hun Sen. Although several reports detail the controversial reservoir projects in Kompong Thom, information about the four other provinces that ring the lake are unavailable.

Contacted on Monday, Mr Tum declined to comment. “Let it be finished,” he said.

Yesterday afternoon, the Ministry of Agriculture had a meeting to discuss possible ways to demolish the reservoirs. The outcomes of the meeting were unknown yesterday.

In his recent interview, Mr Tum defended the reservoir owners, saying the freshwater basins boosted agricultural yields and help drive economic growth in the area. He underscored how the captured water could help grow between 4 to 6 tons of rice per hectare, a higher amount produced than in other parts of country.

But the reservoirs have multiplied to such an extent that in November the Council of Ministers, following recommendations from the Water Resources Ministry, ordered the reservoirs partially or completely destroyed. No deadline, however, has been set for their destruction.

Copies of the premier’s note to Mr Tum were also sent to Minister of Water Resource and Meteorology Lim Kean Hor and Chan Sarun, minister of agriculture, and current Kompong Thom governor Chhun Chhorn.

“Please Your Excellency, implement the decision of royal government that already exists,” Mr Hun Sen told Mr Tum.

Mr Chhorn, the Kompong Thom governor, confirmed yesterday that he had received the prime minister’s letter but declined to comment on its contents. He said local authorities in his province are ready to enforce the government’s policies.

“In principle, the ministries already made a decision for demolition but time is merely needed to explain to the farmers about the technical detail and its impact,” Mr Chhorn said, referring to the decision made by the Council of Ministers and the ministries of agriculture and water resources.

“When they clearly understand the impact from their dams, they would not protest” their destruction, he said.

Mr Chhorn said there are around 70 reservoirs constructed within the lake’s flood plain with Kompong Thom provincial approval, while around 100 other reservoirs were built without permission.

Agriculture investors, Mr Chhorn said, believed it was unnecessary to obtain permission as they were building on their own land. The reservoirs, he added, had been built before his arrival as governor of the province.

According to statistics compiled by the Agriculture Ministry, 113 reservoirs spanning roughly 10,000 hectares of flooded forest and flood plain in Kompong Thom province alone need to be demolished.


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