On 13 June, the Government of Laos formally notified the Mekong River Commission (MRC) of its intention to construct the Pak Lay dam on the mainstream of the Mekong River. The notification triggers the Prior Consultation procedure under the Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA) of the 1995 Mekong Agreement. Pak Lay is the fourth Mekong mainstream dam to be submitted for the procedure.
In August 2014, a 5.5 MW hydropower dam broke for the second time in Gia Lai Province. Luckily no one was killed. This isn’t the first time that dams have leaked or broken in Vietnam but what was striking was the fact that according to the article the construction company ignored basic safety consideration by building the dam in the wet season. As a result, the cement didn’t dry properly and couldn’t withstand the water pressure. After the dam failed for the first time in June 2013, the provincial government ordered the company to suspend construction. The company refused.
This episode tells us a lot about how dams are built in Vietnam. First, safety concerns and the voice of the provincial government can be safely ignored. Second, after the disaster, the focus is on finding out who’s responsible. However, no one is ever held accountable. The construction company hasn’t been charged with criminal negligence; no one has lost their job. The lack of accountability can probably be traced to the ownership structure of the company and the associated conflicts of interest.
Just imagine if the government had to advise Airbus or Boeing not to build airplanes with substandard parts and one of their airplanes then crashed. There would be international outrage that these companies were knowingly selling Vietnam defective equipment. Yet when it comes to local dam construction companies, there seems to be no anger, just a passive acceptance that such irresponsibility is the norm and nothing can be done about it.