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Water mega plan faces legal delay

Jun 26. 2013
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By Pongphon Sarnsamak
The Nation

Impact studies must be done first, judge says; final ruling tomorrow
Companies that have won bids for the government’s massive Bt350-billion water-management scheme are holding their breath, after an Administrative Court judge voiced initial support for an injunction. 
Judge Wassana Maneetong said in the first hearing yesterday that all nine modules – due to be awarded soon – should be put on hold until environmental impact assessments (EIAs) and health impact assessments (HIAs) are completed. 
Wassana is tasked with an initial role to hear facts, while a verdict will be made with other judges who act jointly in a quorum but are often absent from the trial chamber. The court tomorrow could reverse or uphold the statement. 
Having to conduct impact assessments would significantly delay the mega-scheme and the injection of a large amount of funds into the economy.
An injunction would also mean that all terms of reference would have to be amended, as key factors and specifications would have to be changed, including the mandatory EIA and HIA operations, plus mandatory public hearings on projects, which have also not been done, and subsequent public participation. There has been little of the latter in projects proposed in the mega-scheme.
Monthon Panupokin, managing director of Korea Water Resources Corp (K-water), which won the biggest module worth Bt130 billion, said his agency is now waiting to hear the final decision from the court on whether the project will be suspended. 
“We want the government to make it clear who will conduct the environmental and health impact assessments and public hearing, so as to comply with the Constitution,” he said.
Vasant Chatikavanij, senior executive vice president of Loxley – a partner in the Loxley-AGT Consortium – voiced a similar concern. He said Loxley was ready to comply with the court’s verdict by conducting an EIA before the construction of the water and flood information centre. Yet, as the contract has yet to be officially awarded, it remains unclear if the consortium or the government should undertake the EIA. 
“At least, it’s good that the court will not order the government to cancel the whole project. We would be happy if the court asks us to only conduct the EIA report before signing the contract,” he said.
Judge Wassana’s decision was in favour of a petition by the Stop Global Warming Association. 
In her statement, she said the project should be suspended and public hearings completed before the government signs contracts with contractors, in line with Section 67 (2) of the Constitution, which requires EIA and HIA for projects that could affect the environment and communities.
Srisuwan Janya, president of the association, was convinced that the Central Administrative Court would uphold Judge Wassana’s statement tomorrow. 
“Normally, the EIA and HIA process takes about two years. This should require a similar period of time,” he said.
The petition accused Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the Strategic Committee for Water-Resources Management, the National Water-Management and Flood-Prevention Policy Commission and the Water- and Flood-Management Commission (WFMC) of abusing their authority when preparing the projects related to the flood-prevention/water-management systems.
The government has already selected financiers for the project, and expected to start dispersing funds from the last quarter of this year, to help boost domestic investment. Krungthai Bank is among four banks that will supply loans to support the water management scheme after signing contracts with the Public Debt Management Office on Monday.
Kittiya Todhanakasem, first senior executive vice president at Krungthai, said the bank believed that disbursement may be delayed till next year if the court agrees to an injunction. But the delay would not affect lending growth this year, as KTB had not included loans linked to the water scheme in its business plan this year, she said.

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