As reported in The Interpreter in June (Mekong: Laos Makes an Empty Concession), Laos' agreement to review its planned 32-metre high Don Sahong dam in the far south of the country was in no sense a sign that the Government in Vientiane intended to abandon this much criticised project. A recent op-ed in Bangkok's Nation newspaper by Viraphonh Viravong, the Australian-educated vice minister of Energy and Mines, provides a firm indication of Vientiane's intention to bring the project to completion.
Viraphonh Viravong's reputation for blunt talking and a determined pursuit of the goal of making Laos a 'battery' for the production and sale of electricity to its neighbours was apparent in relation to the Xayaburi dam, now well under construction. The complex story of this dam was covered over many months in The Interpreter with the final decision to proceed blindsiding the dam's critics.
Now in his 24 October op-ed Viraphonh Viravong is talking tough again.
Taking aim at critics of the Don Sahong dam he notes, accurately, that the Mekong River Commission (MRC) cannot stop the building of dams on the Mekong no matter how much activists might want it. 'The MRC is not a building permits office', he writes.
Moreover, he claims that the Lao Government and the dam's developers are addressing issues such as dry season fish migration. Critics of the dam are concerned that it will block migration as a result of the fact that it is to be built on the one channel through which fish migrate throughout the year.
There can be no clearer sign of Laos' intentions than the final sentence of Viraphonh Viravong's op-ed: 'By now, they (activists opposing the dam) should realise that the Lao government will not be deterred from its commitment to develop clean, renewable hydropower, a source of national pride for the Lao people and a sustainable source of electricity for the region.'
Photo by Flickr user International Rivers.