Transparency at Seminar Hailed; Reporter Removed

The Ministry of Industry, Mines and Energy and the Japanese In­ter­national Cooperation Agency held a seminar Wednesday in Phnom Penh to unveil a report on the country’s master plan for hydropower dams.

Up for discussion was a draft final report, compiled by JICA and the ministry, on the government’s master plan for a potential 29 hydropower sites in five provinces: Pursat, Koh Kong, Kampot, Stung Treng and Ratanakkiri; though only seven priority projects have been selected.

Participants at the seminar included officials from several government ministries, the Japanese Embassy, World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the UN Development Pro­gram, the UN Industrial Develop­ment Organization and television and print journalists.

However, a Cambodia Daily re­porter, who was invited to the seminar, was told to leave the meeting Wed­nesday afternoon while trying to attend a section on social and environmental considerations related to fu­ture hydropower developments.

Asked to leave the seminar by a man who did not identify himself, the reporter was shortly after invited back into the discussion by a JICA staff mem­ber before being again told to leave the meeting by a woman who said she worked for the Ministry of Industry, though she would not give her name.

“I just got an order from my ministry to block the reporter because it is the confidential meeting,” she said.

A JICA staffer, who requested an­ony­mity, said he didn’t agree with the ministry’s press ban: “JICA feels [it is] important [for] trans­parency of the master plan to anybody and the mass media.”

The master plan was undertaken by JICA in 2007 at the request of the Cambodian government to investigate and prioritize potential hydro­power sites in Cambodia to meet the country’s growing demand for electricity, according to information available on JICA’s Web site.

Sat Samy, secretary of state with the Ministry of Industry, said in a speech to the seminar participants Wednesday morning that transparency was key to the JICA-funded master plan.

“The master plan of hydropower development in Cambodia is focused on the technical evaluation of economic, social and environment [as­pects] in order to be transparent and capable of processing each project,” Sat Samy said.

Ministry of Industry officials could not be reached for comment.

“If the dams are built, build [them] with transparency, public participation and accountability and adhere to national and international laws,” said Chhith Sam Ath, Executive Director of the NGO Forum on Cambodia.

Nongovernmental organizations, Chhith Sam Ath said, are not working against the development of dams, but the government must ensure that dams do not have a negative impact on the livelihood of the people who live near them. Pen Samithy, president of the Club of Cambodian Jour­nalists, criticized the ban on reporters covering such events.

“It’s not only the hydro dam, but other development projects should [be] put on the table for the public to discuss openly,” he said.

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