The following post is a roundup of news articles from the past two weeks in the Mekong region, drafted by ERI’s Mekong Legal Team. The focus of our monitoring effort includes earth rights issues related to large-scale infrastructure and agribusiness projects; corporate accountability and international financial institutions; regional and international cooperation and institutional strengthening; and the security of human rights defenders.
We wrote this roundup to share internally among our team, but we thought our readers might be interested in well. What do you think? Should we post news roundups like this every two weeks? Let us know in the comments on this post, or on Twitter or Facebook.
- Roadblocks for a free media: A report entitled Challenges for Independent Media Development in Cambodia, “was released late last month by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), which produces Voice of Democracy radio.” The report states “Cambodia’s political environment, a lack of professional journalists and financial instability are the key issues hampering independent media development in the Kingdom.” “With the government controlling most of the country’s media through direct or indirect ownership, censorship or ‘influence by way of manipulation of the law,’truly independent reporting is hard to find, the study notes.” The study cites the “widespread practice of self-censorship among Cambodian media professionals…borne out of a fear of being prosecuted for criminal offences under the country’s penal code for reporting on issues which highlight controversial activities by the government.”
- PM preps pen for China: “The Cambodian and Chinese governments will sign off on more than $100 million in concessional loans and ink a $1.67 billion memorandum of understanding for a long-planned oil refinery project when Prime Minister Hun Sen visits China this weekend.” See also related article in The Cambodian Daily: Government Goes to China in Search of Loans
- Trees being cleared for Sesan dam: “As many as 40 workers are cutting down trees, marking other trees they plan to fell in protected forest areas and piling up luxury timber in a flood-safety zone in Stung Treng’s Srekor commune.” The workers are “cutting trees some distance from where the reservoir for the $781 million, 400-megawatt Lower Sesan 2 hydropower dam will be built…under the premise of making way for a road and clearing pollution from the reservoir area.” The community is “very concerned.” Cambodia’s Royal Group, in partnership with Chinese company Hydrolancang International Energy, confirmed building of the dam last November. It will be built “over five years at the confluence of the Sesan and Srepok rivers, relocating about 5,000 families and affecting tens of thousands more.” See also related article in The Cambodia Daily: Workers Begin Clearing Land for Lower Sesan 2
- Ethnic Jarai villagers defend claim at court: “Jarai ethnic minority villagers appeared at Ratanakkiri provincial court yesterday, demanding compensation from a Vietnamese company they say illegally cleared 30 hectares of community land in November last year. The villagers filed the complaint in December, accusing the Chea Chanrith company of bulldozing their protected jungle in Lumchor commune of O’Yadav district.” “The Jarai community forest had been recognised since 2010 by provincial authorities, which had maps clearly delineating their claim of 481 hectares.” This article was a follow-up to a previous article in The Phnom Penh Post: Titles closer, but ‘land damage done’
- Officials vow to make real progress towards MDGs: “Lao and overseas officials have vowed to compile a report that reflects the true progress of Laos towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals” during a 2nd workshop held in Vientiane. In regards to “MDG No. 7 which relates to environmental sustainability, Mr. Alounkeo. [Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs], said land use management had been effective in certain areas but not in others.”
- Hongsa folk relocate to make way for power plant: “The 2,036 people in Hongsa district, Xayaboury province, who had to leave their homes to make way for the construction of a lignite-fired power plant, are now settled in two new villages. The new communities of 452 houses, which will house the more than 420 relocated families, are 12km away from the project site.” The project developer, Hongsa Power Company Limited, has funded construction of the two villages, “at a cost of over US$20 million.” The “Head of the Hongsa Lignite Fired Power Project’s Resettlement Livelihood Management Unit, Mr. Sommy Xayalath,” provided the information.
- PM reissues order to end private prior-investment projects: Prime Minister “has repeated his instruction demanding…authorities [to] stop allowing private companies to pay for state projects at the outset and be refunded by the government later.” “Such practices (bypassing a bidding process) are seemingly tolerated, despite the law and regulations stipulating that state development projects must be put out to tender.”
- Lao imports electricity from China: “Laos is importing electricity from China to ensure adequate supplies in Luang Prabang and the Northern provinces, according to a senior official at Electricite due Laos. ‘Hydropower plants in Laos cannot generate sufficient power at this time of the year due to low river levels so we have to import power from China,’ EDL Deputy Managing Director Mr. Duangsy Phalayok said.” “Although Laos exports a large amount of hydropower to Thailand, it has to re-import electricity to supply provinces that are not connected to the national power grid. This electricity also feeds copper and gold mining operations, which consume huge amounts of power.”
- Fish passage not a problem, dam builders say: “The Xayaboury dam developers have unveiled technical drawings relating” to fish passage tunnels. The project hired specialists to study fish migration and to produce the best system. The article claims that Vietnamese reporters “were happy with the information they received on both fish passage and sediment flows.” ERI Editorial: Dr. Eric Baran of the World Fish Centre in Phnom Penh, Cambodia says: “It is unreasonable to assume that the proposed fish passage options will be efficient when they are neither based on successful experience in a similar context nor on a study of the local species.”
- EGAT: Brace for higher power bills: EGAT “expects the electricity tariff will hit five baht per kilowatt-hour (unit), on par with Singapore, in two years due to the rising price of natural gas.” “EGAT governor Sutat Patmasiriwat pointed to imports of costly liquefied natural gas (LNG) as a major reason.” “Mr. Sutat said Malaysia and Vietnam both reduced their dependency on gas and promote clean coal and nuclear power.” ERI Editorial:For an alternative perspective on Thai energy policy see the analysis of the Mekong Energy and Ecology Network (MEE Net).
- Infrastructure bill sails through: “After two full days of heated debate, the House of Representatives voted to approve the first reading of the government’s 2-trillion-baht infrastructure loan bill. The 36-member committee now gets just 30 days to scrutinize the bill before it proceeds to its next reading.”
- Court ruling sought on PPP legislation: “Seventy six legislators, 43 senators and 33 Democrat MPs, have asked the Constitution Court to rule whether the Public Private Partnership (PPP) legislation passed by parliament is constitutional. The PPP Bill has already been passed by parliament and is currently awaiting royal endorsement to become law.” The PPP Bill “enables the government to work with private operators on infrastructure projects using state budgets without parliamentary scrutiny.”
- Pipeline EIA approval broke law, says judge: “The approval of the environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the Thai-Malaysian gas pipeline in Songkhla 12 years ago was illegal, a Supreme Administrative Court judge said Tuesday.” The approval violated the 1992 Environment Quality Promotion and Protect Act. Despite this, Judge Panuphan Chairat “stopped short of ordering the revocation of the pipeline’s permit, as demanded by a group of 18 residents from Songkhla’s Chana district…[since] stopping the pipeline’s operations would cause huge economic losses for the country.” “‘By amending the EIA, there would be no need for the Marine Department to revoke the permits granted to the operator to lay the pipeline,’ the judge said.” The judge also said “the EIA amendment should be completed within 180 days of the Supreme Administrative Court’s verdict.” ERI Editorial: The lawyer for the community is a Mekong Legal Network (MLN) member.
- Public voice heard on Constitutional amendments: “The Viet Nam Fatherland Front Central Committee (VFF CC) has so far collected 8 million opinions from the people about draft amendments to the 1992 Constitution. Yesterday, VFF CC Chairman Huynh Dam handed over a report summing up various views to the drafting committee at a ceremony in Ha Noi.” The draft committee agreed to instruct the compiling board to “‘meticulously study and draw from these opinions’ to develop complete and representative amendments to the 1992 Constitution.”
- Bai Tu Long bay dying amid local authorities’ indifference: Bai Tu Long Bay, a beautiful landscape in Ha Long Bay – “a world natural heritage area – has been seriously polluted.” Bai Tu Long has been gradually “forced to death” by mining companies, especially coal exploitation. “The ‘black gold’ exploitation and exports have brought money to the mining companies, but have also brought pollution” to the Bai Tu Long bay. Local authorities have not been addressing the problem.
- “Hot economic development” leads to serious fresh water shortage: “[T]housands of hectares of rice fields turned yellow in the coastal areas of the Mekong Delta,” prompting concern over fresh water. “[O]verly rapid and uncontrolled economic development has led to the pollution of fresh water sources.” Water degradation is also attributed “to the damming in the river upper course, which has led to the lower volume of water for the lower course.”