Could this be another disaster waiting to happen?
The government is about to award huge contracts as part of its flood prevention plan; is there any hope the plan will be free of corruption?The massive Bt350-billion water management plan that the government initiated in response to the disastrous floods in late 2011 could end up like the aborted Hopewell project or the corruption-plagued Klong Dan Wastewater Treatment Project in Samut Prakan.
If the government cannot ensure transparency in the bidding process and engage local communities in the project from the start, the whole plan could lead to more questions instead of solutions that help people deal with flood disasters.
The signs are not positive. The government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra has already qualified six bidders for the 10 investment modules, even though there are questions whether the government has thoroughly studied the environmental impact of the project.
The five-year goal envisions the construction of eight big dams, including the controversial Kaeng Sua Ten Dam in Phrae and several smaller ones.
Without full public engagement, the contractors who win the construct contracts will surely face opposition from the local citizens who will be most directly affected. Construction of dams is and always will be a sensitive issue. Already we are seeing a fierce debate over the construction of the Mae Wong Dam in Nakhon Sawan, which is designated to be part of the overall water-management project.
All six qualified bidders are due to submit final plans next month. This means that part of the selection has been done, even though the environmental experts panel has received no environmental or health impact assessment reports on any of the projects.
The government must review the credentials of the potential investors who want to be involved. First, they must have the proven capacity to complete the project in a cost-efficient manner. If not, we could end up with a scandal similar to the one that has enveloped the construction of new police stations and accommodations. PCC Construction and Development won that Bt6.6-billion contract but has failed to come anywhere near to fulfilling its obligations. The delay has demonstrated clearly that PCC lacks the capacity to complete the project either to standard or on time.
Unless projects on this scale are transparent, the public is likely to witness another fiasco like the Hopewell train line. What was supposed to be a massive transit facility became nothing more than a string of abandoned and decaying concrete pillars, reminding us daily of the damage caused by corrupt politicians at the expense of the public interest.
More importantly, the investors must engage the public in discussion from the start. The construction of dams affects the environment and the livelihood of local people.
Aside from dams in the Ping, Yom, Nan, Pasak and Sakaekrang river basins, which must hold a combined 2 billion cubic metres of water, proper floodways will also require support from local administrations as well as residents whose land is affected.
Whether local or foreign bidders win the contracts does not matter as much as transparency and honesty. A project on this scale, initiated because of the suffering seen during the last flood disaster, must proceed in earnest. But the public will be keeping a close watch on all the players. We cannot afford to allow vested interests to abuse the trust of the people when so much is at stake, as we were reminded to our great cost by the events of 2011.