By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
Thai Extra-Territorial Obligations Working Group and Chulalongkorn University held a forum yesterday to determine measures to develop good governance for transboundary investments for sustainable development in the Mekong River region spanning multiple countries.
Many direct investments by Thai investors have been found to ignore good governance and violate human rights.
The forum concluded that individual states could not force investors to follow principles of good governance, so there should be international measures to control transboundary investments alongside strong participation from the public sector and class-action lawsuits if companies negatively affect local people and the environment.
Apichai Sanchindah, former director of the Asean Foundation, suggested that issues affecting local people and the environment due to direct investments in the Mekong River region was a very big issue. He compared the issue as similar to the problem of transboundary haze and the conflict in the South China Sea.
Apichai added that Asean had issued declarations regarding transboundary haze and the South China Sea, so the issue of investment projects in the Mekong River region should also be discussed at the same level.
He added that there should be an international obligation at the regional level to force investors to follow good governance principles and protect local people from the impacts of various development projects.
“Despite that cooperation at the Asean level is based on the consensus of each member state, it is better to have a regional agreement to control investment in the region,” he said.
He also suggested that people who faced impacts from the transboundary investments should jointly file class-action lawsuits against companies in the courts of the companies’ origin, following the example of Australia, as fishermen in Indonesia filed a lawsuit against an Australian company for a major oil spill from Montara oil ridge.
Project Sevana coordinator Premrudee Daoroung agreed with the idea, adding that many big Thai conglomerates that invest in many countries have transformed to become international conglomerates and have larger influence and power than the government, so the individual states could not control their operations.
“We need cooperation at the regional level to control and enforce good governance of these investments together with a strong public sector movement to fight the influence of these conglomerates. We should start with strengthening the power of local people,” Premrudee said.
Niwat Roikaew, chairman of the Rak Chiang Khong Group, also said the past record of investment showed that people’s movements had been left out of the development of their regions. Moreover, local people faced difficulties getting information about development projects.
Niwat urged that local people should be included in project monitoring and decision-making, as they could not rely on governments or international organisations such as the Mekong River Commission to ensure the protection of people’s rights.