Thai state agencies likely to get away with Xayaburi Dam construction

Administrative Court officials have said that Thai governmental agencies accused of failing to safeguard the public interest by giving the green light to the construction of a controversial hydroelectric dam on the Mekong River should be acquitted.   

The Administrative Court, on Monday morning, 30 November 2015, held the final hearing on a case over the Xayaburi Dam, a controversial hydroelectric dam on the main stem of Mekong River, east of Xayaburi Town in northern Laos.

The case is the first public-interest lawsuit filed by a group of 37 Thai villagers from eight provinces in the Mekong River Basin in Thailand’s North and Northeast, who alleged that Thai state agencies failed to safeguard the environment and prevent the transboundary ecological impacts that the dam will have on the Mekong River.   

Although the Administrative Court has not reached a verdict in the case, the government Commissioner of the Administrative Court at the hearing today said that the government should be acquitted over the case.

The court official reasoned that the dam construction was not a state project. Therefore, the state authorities did not have to survey public opinion as to whether most people would agree or disagree with the project.

Niwat Roikaew, one of the 37 villagers, criticised the statement as unjust.

“After we heard the statement from the government commission, it was clear that there are many flaws. The villagers cannot access justice in managing their own resources,” said Niwat.

He added that if the law cannot provide a just and sustainable framework for managing the environment and resources of the Mekong, the river will eventually ‘die’.   

The construction of the Xayaburi Dam began in 2010 with the cooperation of the Thai and Lao governments. The Lao government in 2007 signed a Memorandum of Understanding on the project with Ch. Karnchang, one of Thailand’s biggest construction conglomerates.

The ongoing dam construction is financed by six Thai commercial banks, including Siam Commercial Bank, Kasikorn Bank, Bangkok Bank, Krung Thai Bank, TISCO, and the Export-Import Bank of Thailand (EXIM).

According to the Power Purchasing Agreement (PPA), Thailand’s electricity utility, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand (EGAT), has agreed to purchase 95% of the dam’s electricity.

In 2012, the Administrative Court dismissed the case, citing lack of jurisdiction. However, the Supreme Administrative Court later overturned the lower court’s ruling, saying that the court has jurisdiction over the case because it is related to failures of government to carry out its duties, such as information disclosure and assessments of the transboundary environmental impacts.

The Xayaburi dam is the first of the 11 dams planned on the lower Mekong. According to many environmental conservation groups, the dam will have detrimental impacts on millions of people who rely on freshwater fish in the river and pave the way for the construction of more dams in the future.