Cambodian Mekong Dams -The Elite & Trade Agreements vs. The Poor

by Dr. Lilliana Corredor
Coordinator – Scientists for the Mekong
Australia, February 22, 2017 – REVISED 23 Feb 2017
In this article we examine the politics of Energy generation in Cambodia: the role of the corrupt Cambodian Elite in framing the future of energy production in this nation, the Trade deals between the Elite and Chinese consortium, the falsehood of Dams playing a role in “poverty alleviation and the Australian connection to this story.
We name only a few Cambodian prominent people, as an example of other similar influential individuals that form part of The Elite, which make decisions for the majority of extremely poor Cambodians. Unsurprisingly, this Elite is purposefully impacting on the Social and Environmental well-being of Cambodians, for their own monetary gain, while using “economic competitiveness and development” as an excuse.
Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, is the co-owner of the Coal Plant facility CIIDG Erdos Hongjun Electric Power, in Preah Sihanouk province. Along with the neighbouring Coal plant owned by Malaysia’s Leader Universal Holdings, both coal-powered plants tripled the energy output in 2016 compared to that in 2014. This is not just a business venture, nor is it good news, as it means that a lot more coal was burnt and therefore, Cambodia has been responsible for a dramatic increase in CO2 and other GHG emissions from just these 2 coal mines.
ANZ/Royal Group Chairman, Kith Meng, an Australian-Cambodian citizen (ex-refugee with a very tarnished reputation for shady deals), is a close friend of Cambodia’s dictator PM Hun Sen and his family. Kith Meng is said to often accompany Hun Sen for his Health checks and shopping. Hun Sen and his family attended Kith Meng’s marriage in March 20, 2015.

Kith Meng & Hun Sen at his wedding on 20-03-2015 – via

We can assume that nepotism is rife and that Kith Meng convinced Hun Sen to support his move for an increase in Hydropower Development in Cambodia, and promoted the acceptance of Chinese loans towards his goal. This wouldn’t be surprising given Meng’s close ties to both Hun Sen and the Chinese SOEs, and the fact that his conglomerate the Royal Group is now building the Lower Sesan2 Dam n NE Cambodia with Chinese developer Hydrolancang International Energy.
Unfortunately, Kith Meng’s Royal group, has left behind a nasty trail of lack of integrity, and disregard for social and environmental principles for their projects.
” The Royal Group chairman, whose business interests range from ANZ Royal Bank to cellular service provider Cellcard, already has a stake in the Lower Sesan II dam in Stung Treng province. The 400-megawatt hydropower project is nearing completion after being plagued by accusations of illegal logging, forced evictions and heavy damage to local fish stocks.
The LS2 Dam is the largest Dam built to date in the Lower Mekong Basin, and is considered the most dangerous Dam in the Lower Mekong River basin for many reasons.
It was built:
a) Without an appropriate Environmental Impact Assessment;
b) Without Prior Consultation with the 5 villages that would be displaced;
c) In clear violation of Human Rights: by disregarding communities’ opposition and protests, and forcibly relocating them;
d) Despite studies clearly pointing out the immense damage to fisheries in the whole Mekong Ecosystem;
e) The compensation promised was not forthcoming for a very long time (over a year in some cases, if at all in other cases);
f) The relocation settlements are dismally substandard, with plots allocated being so barren that families cannot grow food in them, and lacked an appropriate water supply. To this day there are families in some villages that refuse to be relocated and say they will rather drown with their houses…

Kith Meng, right, poses with Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem -in front of Lower Sesan II Dam in Stung Treng province – via The Cambodia Daily

There have also been complaints against a Kith Meng’s Mining company, CLY Investment, in Kompong Svay by over 100 villagers who accused it of encroaching on their farmland. 
In another incident involving Kith Meng, in January 2016, a government committee ordered the Royal Group “to stop construction of a passenger port it was building on Sihanoukville’s Otres Beach, which it said was in clear violation of coastal development guidelines and had progressed without a permit. … The Preah Sihanouk governor is requested to advise the Royal Group to stop construction and restore the area to its original condition.”
However, Kith Meng complained about this order and refused to stop. So then in June 2016, the Sihanoukville government not only ordered the Royal Group to stop construction of the Koh Rong port, but also gave orders for it to be dismantled and the area restored. Three yachts including one belonging to Kith Meng were burnt, presumed to be arson.
In addition, Kith Meng’s Royal Group has also decided to build its own Coal-fired Plant no doubt with the blessing of the Australian Government – rather than financing one. This speaks volumes as to the personal financial interests of Kith Meng and his disregard for Climate Warming.
Recently, Kith Meng’s Royal Group announced that it will back the construction of THREE new extremely destructive Hydropower Projects in the Mekong River, despite many studies demonstrating their irreparable and destructive Social and Environmental impacts, i.e. two mega-Dams in the mainstream of the Mekong River, the Stung Treng Dam and Sambor Dam; and the Lower Sekong Dam in one of its main tributaries.
For his lack of Social and Environmental responsibility and self-serving modus operandi, we have dubbed Kith Meng: “Cambodia’s Traitor‘.
The Royal Group’s consistent violation of Management and Environmental Guidelines, the disregard for communities rights and needs, and the breach of government permits, among many other misdemeanors, certainly create a very poor image and an unpromising track record for Kith Meng’s Royal Group.
Their dark history leads us to question the wisdom of their involvement in the construction of 3 new Mega-Dams. Particularly, when such Dams have been even more rejected by scientists than the LS2 Dam, and deemed disastrous for the enormous social and environmental impacts they will have.
Furthermore, in Nov. 2015 the Cambodian Royal Group signed a $1.5 Billion MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Chinese conglomerate ‘Herun Group’ to establish a development company in Cambodia with investments in many sectors.
This financial partnership further raises the question about the ethics of allowing Cambodian and Chinese conglomerates to build THREE Mega-Dams and thereby, make fundamental Social and Environmental decisions that will irreversibly  affect the Mekong River ecosystem, its fisheries and its communities for all time, and increase Climate Warming. Particularly, when such decisions will most likely be biased towards protecting their own investments, i.e. a conflict of interests.
Recapping: all things considered the “Cambodian Traitor” Kith Meng cashes in big time in his deals. Using his dual Australian-Cambodian citizenship, Kith Meng makes unethical deals that keep “top dogs” happy while making a killing (of 60 Million poor people’s food supply and livelihoods) and billions of $$ in his bank accounts:

1) #Coal deals for Australia with @TurnbullMalcolm.
2) #Hydropower deals for @HunSenCambodia with #China
3) Ties in nicely the China and Australia Free Trade Agreement (CHaAFTA)
4) As Chairman of the ANZ Royal Group – Meng peddles multi-billion dollar investments in #Dams for ANZ Bank (Australia & New Zealand Bank). Yet, Australia’s ANZ claims that it has no deals with ANZ Royal Group… This is difficult to comprehend given that the Royal Group owns 40% of ANZ!
5) Through his partnership with the Chinese SOE Herun Group, he provides work for Chinese #Dam Developers (i.e. 3 mega-Dams) and cashes in the #Dams. Moreover, he probably also makes a hefty commission from all the necessary infrastructure, electric High Voltage Lines, and electrical gadgets produced by China’s SOEs, which are part of a “package deal” with Dam Developers… or through his own partnership with the Herun Group.
The examples below clearly show the narrow and dangerous mind-set of other influential Cambodian figures:
In October 216, Han Phoumin, energy economist for ERIA, an ignoramus par excellence said:
Hydropower and coal will be the major sources of energy for Cambodian electricity for now and in the future … Coal will be largely used to cover the load demand during the dry season because hydropower electricity production is expected to reduce due to seasonal fluctuations.” He added that coal-fired power plants are cheap and easy to build.”
Another shortsighted bureaucrat is Kung Phoak, President of the Cambodian Institute for Strategic Studies (CISS), who stated that:
“the government needed to do everything it could to shore up energy security, regardless of the power source, to keep the economy competitive. … He added that coal-fired plants would play a crucial role in the future and that coal was both cheap and a reasonable option for a developing country.”
And then, there is the unscrupulous Australian Government … who is very happy to peddle #coal anywhere, at any cost, knowing it increases Climate #warming, in the name of “the economy, jobs & growth”
The Australian government’s “$143 million rail rehabilitation project” with the Asian Development Bank (ADB), supported a shady contract with Toll Royal Railway’s and it’s partner the Royal Group. This project came under scrutiny in 2014 when an internal audit revealed the ADB failed to ensure just resettlement and compensation for more than 4,000 families impacted by the works.
Interestingly, the Toll Group happened to be a publicly listed Australian Firm So was there a conflict of interest for the Australian Government? Was it a philanthropic funding for a “rehabilitation project” in Cambodia, or was it an investment in an Australian listed firm? In either case Australia had to get out of the picture when things got nasty:

“Publicly listed Australian logistics firm Toll Group has sold its stake in the Kingdom’s national railway, a project plagued with botched community resettlement attempts and development setbacks.”
In addition, through its Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT), the Australian government has also been involved in encouraging and funding Hydropower projects in the Mekong Basin (specifically in Laos). Moreover, as it is clearly and unashamedly advertised in DFAT’s website, such Hydropower projects were executed in partnership with the world’s Number ONE  Chinese Dam Developer SynoHydro. This kind of arrangement clearly supports Australia’s  CHaAFTA Trade Agreement with China, with total disregard both for the devastating social implications for thousands of Laotians, as well, a disregard for the ecological welfare of important Mekong tributary rivers.
(Then again, the lack of social and environmental concern on the part of Australia is nothing new, as judged by the dismal decisions taken by the government regarding the Aboriginal People, and the environment, including: increased deforestation, despite the country being a vast desert, and meters of salt advancing from the desert and deteriorating the land; mismanagement of main rivers  and Wetlands (Murray-Darling River Basin); giving lots of permits for Fracking in private properties despite the protests by land-owners; and, despite demonstrated methane pollution of surface waters (Condamine River) and the Artesian Basin; and of course, giving permission to ADANI, an Indian Company with a worse record than the Royal Group, to build the largest coal mine in the southern hemisphere, and a number of ports for coal shipment,  next to the Great Barrier Reef. Plus planning a series of Coal-fired Plants in Australia, despite signing COP 21 and COP 22, and all the promises the Australian Government has made, but couldn’t care less about!)

Australia’s Mekong Water Resources Program will continue to help develop and better manage the region’s water resources for greater economic opportunities as well as to protect the 60 million people ... [ED. False!] … that rely directly on the Mekong River for their livelihoods. Hydropower development is vital for the economic future of countries of the Mekong Basin, and its transparent management is critical to the stability of countries and regional links. Through targeted investments in quality planning, our program is helping countries of the region build hydropower dams sustainably.”

Such a statement is the epitome of double-standards and falsehood! Australia’s interest in the Mekong region is clearly one of “Trade Agreements” = where to get profits!
The very principle of Dams as walls that block a river is “unsustainableper se.
“In ecology, sustainability (from sustain and ability) is the property of biological systems to remain diverse and productive indefinitely. Long-lived and healthy wetlands and forests are examples of sustainable biological systems. In more general terms, sustainability is the endurance of systems and processes. The organizing principle for sustainability is sustainable development, which includes the four interconnected domains: ecology, economics, politics and culture.” (Wikipedia)
We clarify that we don’t have an issue with Australia boosting its economy through Trade Agreements – if these were for the benefit of all. What we have an issue with is that those AustralianTrade Agreements are neither sustainable, nor socially ethical!Dispossessing 60 million people of their FOOD SUPPLY and WATER SUPPLY through the construction of #Dams, encouraging the displacement of tens of thousands of poor people to substandard re-settlements, and increasing their level of poverty is not only unethical but immoral.
If we add that:
1) Hydropower Dams have been confirmed to be constant sources of Green House Gas emissions of the worse kind (i.e. CO2, Methane and Nitrous Oxide) responsible for increasing Climate Warming; and
2) The mining, selling and burning of Australian COAL is guaranteeing further unsustainable Climate Warming.
In this light, Australia’s economic policies, international investments and Trade Agreements, are clearly highly irresponsible, and verge on Criminal!
Moreover, studies on the economic trade-offs between the economic benefits of Hydropower development in the LMB and the irreversible negative impacts on the food supply and livelihoods of millions of poor people, have found that:
“there could be a reversal of the Net Present Value (NPV) estimates of the scenarios from a positive $33 billion to negative $274 billion.”
In summary, irreparable damage to the Mekong River Basin environment and its social structure is taking place at break-neck speed. That is, vital resources (i.e. Food and Water Supply) that support and feed 60 Million poor people in the Mekong Basin are being jeopardized by: Conglomerates, Developers, Banks, corrupt politicians, The Elite, distorted Foreign Aid programs and even NGOs, such as Oxfam Australia – all in the name of Poverty reduction, Economic Development & Growth.
The in ground reality is that poverty has increased, communities that were once self-sufficient have been uprooted and displaced, now have a much lower standard of living and live in despair.

Relocation scheme village for displaced communities by the Lower Sesan2 Dam in the Srepok River, Cambodia

The Chinese plan for the Mekong Region was recently stated as: “Communities in the Mekong will stop “subsistence living” and will enter a “market-life”…
Kuenzer C., et al. (2012) described the impacts of Hydropower development and the interests of the local elite in the Mekong region clearly:
“It is not nations that are the winners or losers in the hydropower schemes in the Mekong, but rather parts of the riparian population: a few influential and powerful elites versus the large mass of rural poor.
Examining hydropower development within the Mekong Basin reveals an obvious conflict interest between the needs of upstream and downstream countries, and especially between the priorities of Mekong upper class decision makers directly or indirectly profiting from the dams and the majority of the rural poor, whose livelihood they put at risk.
Main stem and tributary hydropower dams impact flood-pulse timing variability, which can have grave effects on ecologic niches, ecosystems and biodiversity. They lead toa long-term decrease in downstream sediment load, which reduces the nutritious load to plains, wetlands and agricultural areas.
Sediment loss is expected to aggravate coastal erosion and saltwater intrusion in the Mekong delta—a region already threatened by sea level rise. Endangered natural environments are, however, not only the Mekong delta, but also the Tonle Sap and southern Cambodian floodplains. These regions host over one-third of the Mekong Basin population, which depends heavily onfish catch as a source of daily protein.
Migrating fish will, however, be hindered on their pathway by hundreds of metres of high concrete walls. Fish ladders on such constructions have proven to be mostly inadequate in design, and also cannot prevent migratory fish from losing their sense of orientation when they end up in a slow flowing large reservoir instead of a stream. At the dam sites themselves, forced relocation of rural populations often leads to a decrease in resilience and impoverishment.
All the above underline the complexities of the water-food-energy nexus in the Mekong region. Many authors argue that the environmental and social costs of cascading the Mekong and its tributaries probably outweigh the benefits of energy generation, improved navigability, and associated economic development.
The latest study by Manorom, K, Baird, I.G. & Shoemaker, B. (2017),   clearly found that the World Bank’s Hydropower-based Poverty Alleviation is far from reality for Indigenous Peoples in the Xe Bang Fai River Basin of Lao.
“In redefining dams as a vehicle for poverty alleviation, the World Bank has pointed to the purported success of one of its only recently completed large dams, the NamTheun 2 Hydropower Project (NT2) in Laos, as providing justification for this move.

NTPC, the World Bank, and the GoL have failed to conduct the type of assessment or mitigation and compensation measures that would appear to have been appropriate in the XBF River Basin for ethnic Brou people, and  particularly Brou women, who should have been recognized as Indigenous Peoples.

Our study reveals that NT2 has transformed the XBF River in ways which negatively impact many local communities but especially the Indigenous Brou.

The NTPC and GoL have expressed the belief that NT2 would help alleviate poverty in rural communities of Laos, including by leaving project-affected people no worse off than before the project. However, while many factors impact local economies and livelihoods, Brou voices in the XBF Basin indicate that poverty clearly remains and, in affected areas, has been exacerbated  by NT2, especially for women. Equitable distribution of development opportunities was supposed to be generated by NTPC, and have been promoted by the World Bank, but these have not effectively improved the livelihoods of most affected people.

Thus, this article suggests that we must reflect on the extent to which large-scale hydropower development is really a means for eradicating poverty for Indigenous Peoples and other marginalized groups. Are mitigation measures practically sound or are they just the rhetoric of project proponents? Governments and donors alike need to have a better understanding of the importance of the natural resource base to local and traditional livelihoods and the great difficulty, if not the impossibility, of successfully mitigating the impacts of huge infrastructure projects like NT2.”

At the core,
it is all simply about ‘Trade Agreements’ – no matter the cost!
We call this situation the ECOCIDE of the Mekong.
It’s Criminal, Unethical, Immoral!
But lets not shoot ourselves just yet. There is still a small glimmer of hope, with some influential people less retarded and more conscious. For example, as reported by the Phnom Penh Post (Op. cit, Oct 2016):
Stephen Higgins, managing partner of investment firm Mekong Strategic Partners, said that while coal plants can be built more quickly than Hydropower dams, the government needs to take into account the amount of air pollution they emit.
“From an environmental perspective, does Cambodia really want its beach destinations suffering from the pollution from coal-fired power stations?” he asked, adding that from an economic perspective coal is struggling to compete with the diminishing investment costs of renewable energy.
“Admittedly Cambodia is coming from a low base in terms of existing generation assets, but it still seems a little odd that it would put so much emphasis on coal generation,” he said, adding that the government could easily roll out an extensive solar generation strategy providing it put the proper regulatory framework in place.”
Good on Mr Higgins! Finally some sanity amidst the chaos.
We add:
“Does Cambodia and the world really want to have to deal with a Humanitarian crisis the likes of which has never been seen in a relatively small area, with 40+ million hungry and desperate people in Cambodia alone?”


Coal outgrows hydropower. The Phnom Penh Post, Oct. 11, 2016.

Hun Sen attends Kith Meng’s marriage. March, 20, 2015.

Kith Meng Backs Plans for Three Hydropower Dams. The Cambodia Daily, Fe. 3, 2017.

New era of big dam building on the Mekong? ABC Radio National Breakfast, Feb. 20, 2017.

Toll bails on rail, citing revenue. The Phnom Penh Post, Dec. 22, 2014.

Final Report – Study on the Impacts of Mainstream Hydropower on the Mekong River – Impact Assessment Report. – Report prepared by Malmgren-Hansen, A. (DHI), Anwar Khan (HDR) & Kim Wium Olesen (DHI) for the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, Vietnam (VNMC) – January 18, 2016.

In: Comments on:  Final Report – Study on the Impacts of Mainstream Hydropower Dams on the Mekong River – Impact Assessment Report. L. Corredor – on behalf of Scientists for the Mekong- January, 26, 2016.

Royal Group submits plan for coal-fired plant. The Phnom Penh Post, September 8, 2016.

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Chinese Developer Signs $1.5 Billion MoU with Royal Group. Khmer Times, Nov. 19, 2015.–1-5-billion-mou-with-royal-group/

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Corredor, L. (2017). Comments on – Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Reservoir Water Surfaces: A New Global Synthesis. Scientists for the Mekong, February 19, 2017.