May 20, 2013 00:00 By Warattaya Chailanka,
Groups opposed to dams in North also upset at ban at summit venue
At its public forum in Chiang Mai, the People’s Network of North and Northeastern River Basins yesterday condemned the Thai government’s “top-down” approach to water management.
However, its members did not show up at the 2nd Asia-Pacific Water Summit (APWS) being held in the same province. The convention centre, which hosts the summit and related activities till today, was yesterday surrounded by over 100 red shirts.
In response to controversial comments by Deputy Premier Plodprasop Suraswadi, the reds said they were there to prevent people disrupting the summit. Last week, Plodprasop warned opponents of the government’s water-management plans not to protest at the Chiang Mai summit. He said they would face immediate arrests, if they came to protest. He also compared protesters to “garbage”, which Chiang Mai residents should not have to “mess around” with.
“This international summit delivers huge benefits to Thais across the country and generates income for Chiang Mai. The Rak Chiang Mai 51 Group will therefore not allow anyone to disrupt the event,” local red-shirt Petchawat Wattanasirikul said. He mobilised supporters to “stand guard” around the summit venue.
Plodprasop delivered a welcome address during a session on “Water Security and Water-related Disaster Challenges: Leadership and Commitment”. Emomalii Rahmon, president of Tajikistan and a representative of the Hungarian president, also attended the event yesterday.
Leaders and ministers of about 40 countries, including the Sultan of Brunei, will be at the summit today. At the end, the Chiang Mai Declaration will be announced. Plodprasop said the declaration would be a key to successful water management.
In its statement released yesterday, the People’s Network of North and Northeastern River Basins said: “While decision makers from various countries are expected to meet during the Asia-Pacific Water Summit, being held in Chiang Mai, most of the agenda tabled for discussion seems to be irrelevant to issues around major environmental and transboundary development projects, and their impact on people’s livelihoods... In addition, an attempt has been made by the authorities to clearly silence dissidents by depriving them of their right to freedom of expression, despite it being one of the most fundamental human rights and a part of a democratic rule”.
Harnnarong Yaowalert, who chairs Thailand’s Foundation for Integrated Water Management, said many people just wanted to express their concerns about the Thai government’s Bt350-billion modules on water management and flood prevention.
The Water and Flood Management Commission (WFMC), which is chaired by Plodprasop, is expected to conclude the bidding process for these modules very soon.
Just four firms have tendered bids for the nine modules.
“We only intended to urge the government to proceed in line with the Constitution but the government has described us as ‘garbage’,” Harnnarong said at the forum. He said environmental impact assessments should be conducted before firms were chosen.
Harnnarong said the fact that the modules had only a small number of bidders also suggested the possibility of bidding collusion.
The People’s Network of North and Northeastern River Basins also attacked the WFMC for its “single command” approach.
“We opposes any development of water resources without consultation with local communities. We reject single-command or top-down approaches, which have proven ineffective, and have created additional problems. It is pertinent that participation from all sectors be respected,” its statement said.