The Lao Government confirmed on Wednesday its intention to go ahead with construction of the controversial Don Sahong dam, commencing in December. Lao government ministers said that all of their actions in doing so would be presented in a transparent fashion.
As I reported in The Interpreter on 22 January (Mekong states speak out on the Don Sahong dam), Cambodia and Vietnam had made clear their opposition to the dam and asked that the Lao decision be referred to the Mekong River Commission’s (MRC) ministerial council. It does not appear that this has been done. If it has, there is no indication that the council has issued a statement of its views in relation to Don Sahong. And in any event, Laos is clearly going to proceed with the dam no matter what the council says.
This latest announcement suggests a pattern of behaviour by Lao authorities. Just as was the case with the Xayaburi dam, the Lao Government is prepared to go ahead with its plans for dam construction regardless of criticism from other MRC members. In doing so they not only show disregard for the interests of other members and the likely effects of dams on fish stocks and the flow of sediment, they also further diminish whatever remaining authority the MRC has as a body regulating dams on the Mekong.
For so long as the only country building dams on the Mekong was China (not an MRC member), it was possible to hold the view that the MRC had the potential, if not the actual black-letter-law authority, to act as an arbiter in relation to the dam-building ambitions of its members. This has now been shown to be nothing more than wishful thinking.