Are the people aware of the potential negative impacts of this project? How can you verify that those being resettled are fully informed and participating in the process, given the cultural and linguistic barriers to information gathering?
An unprecedented process of local consultations has been conducted to ensure that the proposed project, its likely positive benefits and potential negative impacts, and compensation, mitigation, and resettlement schemes are understood and discussed by project-affected communities. While previous rounds of consultations were led by the government and the developers, in the most recent round of consultations the World Bank and the ADB have involved independent external experts in the process to ensure transparency, balance, and meaningfulness.
This ongoing process, led by an independent facilitator from the Thai NGO community, Mr. Anek Nakabutra, who has knowledge of local languages and customs, has relied on the translation and rendering of documents and issues into easily understood materials; a three-day program per village to train district-level resource persons and village facilitators (selected to reflect the ethnic and gender balance of each community), discussion of issues in a village forum, small breakout groups to allow villagers to discuss their views and concerns openly, and village recommendations. At the end of consultations in each geographical area, a wrap-up session is held to review villagers’ concerns and proposals, and to reach agreement on major design changes. Such changes have included the incorporation of vocational training and provisions for special relocation assistance for widows and the elderly into the Resettlement Action Plan.
This process has been observed and evaluated by an independent monitor, Dr. James Chamberlain, a Lao expert with extensive knowledge of local languages and practices, to determine whether the local consultations are transparent, balanced, and meaningful. His observations and findings are documented in an initial summary report, Proposed Nam Theun 2 Hydroelectric Project: Assessing Quality of the Local Consultations Interim Draft Report; reports from each of the wrap-up sessions have been collected and are being translated into English and summarized into an accompanying matrix of issues and responses—and changes in the safeguard documents and project design as a result of the consultations.
Looking ahead, the government is looking at ways to build upon the network of trained district officials and villagers in participatory processes, as well as finding ways to increase civil society monitoring in the project’s preparation and implementation, should it go forward.