Open and transparent energy sector dialogue

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On
September 4 the Swiss organization Helvetas co-hosted together with the Ministry
of Energy and Mines (MEM) a seminar in Vientiane which purpose was to initiate an
open and transparent dialogue between the Government of Laos (GoL), civil
society organization (CSOs) and development partners on power sector
development. Until now CSOs, and especially local non-profit associations
(NPAs), have been largely excluded from the energy sector policy dialogue. Since
CSOs work with communities affected by power sector development, they could play
an important role as serving as a link between the local communities and policy
makers and donors. Similar seminars have previously been successfully organized
to discuss land issues between the government and CSOs. In power sector this
was the first time. 
A large
number of both national and international organizations based in Laos participated
and discussed the issues related to power sector development. The aim of the
seminar was not necessarily to oppose the hydropower development per se, but
more so question HOW it is done in Laos. Many of the main concerns of the CSOs were
related to Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA), the lack of
information in the ESIA process, the project scope of the ESIAs (that is, spatial
and temporal borders of the ESIAs), lack of public consultation, inefficient
monitoring committees (to monitor project impacts), as well as resettlement and
compensation issues. Concerns about the Xayabury dam were expressed too. After the losses, would
the Lao people benefit from it at all or would the investors be the only
winners in the end? 
Director General
of the Department of Energy Planning and Policy, Dr. Daovong Phonekeo, represented
the ministry at the seminar. In addition, also other central as well as provincial
level government officials participated in the seminar. Dr. Daovong gave a
presentation about GoL’s energy sector policy and plans. All the questions and
concerns were also answered and he told for instance that the information
sharing in the impact assessment process should and will improve. He also
encouraged people to report inefficient monitoring committees to the central
level MEM. The GoL emphasize the role of energy sector in the national
development plan. Energy sector has, according to GoL, also other than monetary
benefits such as reduced CO2 emissions, not only in Laos but in the Greater Mekong Subregion
as a whole (hydropower from Laos saves 5 million TOE of fossil fuels in Laos and in the neighbouring countries where energy will be exported). In addition, the dams provide flood control, recreation and water for
agriculture. 
A number of
other issues were also discussed during the seminar. The seminar was a sign of
some positive development were power sector issues, also sensitive ones, could be discussed more
openly. Greater public participation is necessary in
order to let the Lao people decide how they want to develop their country.