According to an environmental green group, the government of Thailand is defying a regional decision-making process by proceeding with the implementation of a controversial USD3.8 billion hydropower dam project in northern Laos.

At a December meeting of the Mekong River Commission ministers from Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam agreed to delay a decision on whether construction of the controversial Xayaburi Dam in Laos should proceed, pending further environmental impact studies. As of last month those studies had not even been funded but, according to International Rivers, the Thai Government is pushing ahead with the project.

“Recent oversight hearings by the Thai Senate and the National Human Rights Commission confirm that the government has joined Laos in concluding that the regional process is complete, thereby allowing Thai developer Ch. Karnchang to proceed with construction,” the group said in a statement.

“The Thai government has ignored the agreements made last year amongst the four regional governments and the concerns expressed by Cambodia and Vietnam. With more than eight provinces in Thailand at risk from the Xayaburi Dam’s transboundary impacts, the state has also disregarded its duty to protect its own people from harm.  It’s irresponsible to push forward with this dam, when the project’s impacts on Thailand have yet to be adequately studied,” said Pianporn Deetes, Thailand campaign coordinator for International Rivers.

In a letter dated 30 January 2012, the Thai Minister of Energy Arak Cholthanon informed the Senate Committee on Corruption Investigation and Good Governance Promotion that “the Ministry of Natural Resources confirms that the Prior Consultation process has completed.”

Minister Cholthanon further stated that “EGAT [the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand] and the Xayaburi project developer have signed the PPA [power purchase agreement] on 29 October 2011.”

Thailand has not disclosed the power purchase agreement to the public.

On 21 February 2012, the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand organized a public hearing on the Xayaburi Dam after receiving a complaint from Thai communities in eight provinces.

Several Thai government officials testified about their involvement in the project, including representatives from EGAT, the Ministry of Energy, and the Energy Regulatory Commission. Five Thai companies also testified about their involvement, including Thai project developer Ch. Karnchang and investors from Krung Thai Bank, Bangkok Bank, Kasikorn Bank, and Siam Commercial Bank.

The hearing confirmed that the four Thai banks have already provided financial support for the Xayaburi Dam.

In a resolution on 15 November 2011, the Thai Cabinet granted permission to state-owned Krung Thai Bank to invest in the project. When the Commission asked about the steps they took to examine the project’s environmental and social impacts, however, the banks were not able to provide detailed information.

Although the Xayaburi Dam site is located in Laos, Thailand is building and financing the project. The Thai government plans to purchase 95 percent of the electricity, although an independent study has already concluded that the Xayaburi Dam’s electricity is not needed to meet Thailand’s demand for energy in the coming decades.