PM, axe this dam project

PM, axe this dam project

For local residents in Phatthalung's Muang Takua community, a namesake dam project symbolises lack of transparency and misinformation, if not a downright lie.

A group of villagers travelled to Bangkok and staged a rally in front of Government House, demanding that Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ditch the controversial project which they said would harm the environment. If the project is approved, they believe a large area of pristine forest will be the first casualty.

The villagers say the project does not sync with the local topography and was merely copied from another dam in northern Thailand, making it a project based on lies and deception. They are upset that there have been no genuine public hearings and that the Irrigation Department continues to give the impression that it is a royally initiated project.

Such a claim is seen as a ploy to silence critics but in doing so, it risks harming the name of the royal institution.

In addition to the environmental impact, the proposed dam -- like most, if not all, controversial state projects -- has split the community. On the last day of the objectors' rally, a group of dam supporters arrived in Bangkok and confrontation was only narrowly avoided.

Muang Takua is planned to have the southern province's fourth dam but the Irrigation Department actually has plans for a total of 14 dams despite local concerns.

The villagers have been opposing the Irrigation Department's project for a decade. After being shelved following strong local resistance, the project has gathered steam under military rule, prompting fresh resistance.

The opponents finally decided to travel to Bangkok after the Phatthalung governor said he had no authority to terminate it.

The prime minister refused to drop the controversial project, however, instead postponing it to next year. A House panel has anyway suspended funding for the controversial project to ensure that it is at least suspended.

There are reports, however, that the department tried to allocate funds from this year's budget to ensure that part of it goes ahead so the government would eventually have to approve it. It was only a public outcry that prompted the department to abort those efforts.

The objectors' rally lasted 13 days before the government finally decided to step in. On Sept 3 it set up a fact-finding panel, tasked with studying the project's impact. The results are expected in two months' time.

However, there are concerns that forming a panel would end up being just like all other state agency versus locals conflicts: simple a time-buying tactic. This cannot be allowed to happen.

The panel should be able to work independently and come up with straightforward results. It must facilitate public hearings to avoid the appearance of a top-down approach and it should make sure that environmental impact impact studies are conducted.

On top of that the panel should probe the Irrigation Department's claim regarding of the project having royal links. Since the controversy flared, the department has dodged the question of an apparent royal connection. Instead, it tried to make the case that the project had been designed in accordance with local demand, which is patently not true.

Project opponents now back in Phatthalung have complained of threats and intimidation by groups that stand to benefit if the dam is approved.

The Irrigation Department should rethink this project and if it is not worth it, drop it.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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