The governor of a province in Laos hit by flooding from a dam breach earlier this year has issued conflicting estimates of the projected cost to house displaced persons, giving figures deemed unnecessarily high by another official source and contradicting statements he himself had made earlier in an interview.
On July 23, water poured over a saddle dam at the Xe Pian Xe Namnoy hydropower project in Champassak in southern Laos, sweeping away homes and causing severe flooding in up to 12 villages downstream in Champassak and neighboring Attapeu province.
The breach left at least 40 people dead and displaced thousands of others, most of whom have been living in five temporary camps after losing their homes and possessions.
Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service in a report broadcast on Oct. 4, Attapeu governor Leth Xaiyaphone said that 228 houses will be imported from neighboring Thailand at a cost of 70 million kip (U.S. $8,217) per house to house families displaced by the flood, with the cost of clearing land for construction estimated at 28 million kip (U.S. $3,287) per hectare.
Acknowledging that the cost of the houses appeared high, Leth asked, “No one would sell these to us at a lower cost. Tell me who would sell these at a cheaper price than this?”
“You should not have anything to say about this. None of this is any of your business,” the governor added, abruptly hanging up the phone when asked by RFA if contractors had been allowed to bid openly for the work.
Actual costs lower
Also speaking to RFA, an official familiar with discussions on the plans said that while houses imported from Thailand could be built at 70 million kip per house, “If those houses are built by local contractors, they would cost only 45 million kip [U.S. $5,283].”
“Moreover, the true cost of clearing land to build permanent houses is only 5 million (U.S. $587) kip per hectare, not the 28 million per hectare stated in the governor’s decision.”
In an interview on Lao national radio on Oct. 16, Leth Xaiyaphone attacked RFA’s Oct. 4 report, backing away from the higher estimates of cost he had given to RFA at the time.
“They said that the cost of land clearance in [Attapeu’s] Sanamxay district will be 28 million per hectare, but in reality it will be less than 28 million per hectare,” the governor said.
“And though RFA’s report said that a contemporary house will cost 70 million kip, this is groundless news, because we will be importing so many houses that the cost will be cheaper.”
Quoted by the Vientiane Times on Oct. 11, Lao deputy prime minister Sonexay Siphandone said he had told Attapeu officials in a meeting that donations made to flood victims in the province should be used “in the most effective way, and their use and distribution should be carried out in a transparent manner.”
“Officials should make proper plans for the development of new communities and the construction of permanent homes for flood victims,” Sonexay said.
In a report released on Feb. 21, 2018, corruption watchdog Transparency International ranked Laos 135th out of 180 countries surveyed last year, dropping 12 places from 123rd place in a survey done the year before.
Corruption still pervades all sectors of life in Laos, from illegal logging to deliberate cost overruns on construction projects to the paying of bribes to obtain government services in day-to-day life, sources say.
Reported and translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh for RFA’s Lao Service. Written in English by Richard Finney.