Hydropower dam questioned

The Government has come under fire for the lack of consultation over the proposed Hydropower dam at Alaoa.

Since September, Papali’i Malietau Malietoa, has been trying to get answers from the Electric Power Corporation (E.P.C.) around the building of the Alaoa Flood Control Multi-Purpose Dam, which is supported by the Asian Development Bank (A.D.B) through technical assistance to the project.

“I believe that the consultative process for something so important that could pose a huge danger has not been adequate,” Papali’i said.

“In fact I believe that the process thus far has more to do with building a case for a dam rather than the meaningful consultations of affected communities and parties and the importance of their voices in the process.”

Plans for the dam began in 2016, and community consultations kicked off in July last year. 

But it was not until later Papali’i realised his family could be in danger. 

“It wasn’t until Fiu (Mataese Elisara) wrote to the Observer about the dam we learned about it at all,” he said.

“It’s only via our continuous emailing to the A.D.B offices in Manila and Fiji did we manage to get some answers to our questions, and yet under the A.D.B Safe Guard Policy as affected people we should be consulted.

“As beneficiaries of the estate of Malietoa Laupepa, myself and family members have not had an easy time with the project team.”

The land proposed for the multipurpose dam spans four million cubic metres, and allegedly encroaches on customary land, not formally registered or surveyed – so affected families may not even know about it. 

Papali’i said of the proposed land, at least “400 to 500 acres” of Malietoa Laupepa Estate land is inside the project boundary, and includes gravesites of family members at risk of desecration if the dam goes ahead.

The major concern is the size of the dam, and the amount of water it will contain.  According to a response by Civil Society leader Fiu Mataese Elisara, when compared to the hydro project at Afulilo, Alaoa presents a “daily safety concern.”

“This Alaoa initiative is a relatively massive undertaking with the proposed hydro dam constructed in a much lesser area, more confined space, and with immense water pressure that need to be safely contained in a dam structure,” Fiu said. 

“At least the 600 acres of land area taken up by the Afulilo hydro project is expansive enough for water to be distributed rather safely throughout,” he said.

“How to safely manage the immense pressure of damming four million cubic meters of water in a dam with such constraints will undoubtedly be a human nightmare for E.P.C but especially a daily safety concern for those residing close to it in the likelihood of failure.”

In Samoa it is difficult for citizens to participate in the early stages of a process because they don’t know their rights, especially in regard to international organisations like the A.D.B, Papali’i said.

“They need to have their safeguard policies translated in to the Samoan Language to fully give effect to their ‘meaningful consultation’ standard,” he said.

“They have indicated that they will speak to the Government of Samoa on that issue, however it’s my viewpoint that it’s not a Government of Samoa issue, it’s an A.D.B issue.”

When consultation did finally take place with a meeting well attended by people from the eight affected villages on the 23 October last year, Papali’i found the minutes distributed after did not accurately represent the meeting. 

It took over a month for him to receive amended minutes.

“Viewpoints expressed by participants were not recorded so the minutes did not reflect what was actually said at that consultation, [but] this has been corrected.”

Papali’i is still not satisfied with responses to what compensation would be offered, if any at all to families needing to relocate from the land, or for any land value diminishing as a result of the dam.

“The A.D.B in light of this situation has moved swiftly to recruit a consultation expert to draw up a consultation plan for this project,” Papali’i said.

“This is great news but something that should have been in place at the start of the project rather than an ad hoc response to our expressed concerns.”

Papalii’s full concerns to both E.P.C and A.D.B were published on the Samoa Observer in September 2018. Fiu, also waiting months for E.P.C to respond to detailed concerns about the dam said he does not trust the consultations were done in good faith.

“Promised response and record of meetings with villages have not been shared.

“I am therefore disappointed and unable to further contribute and concerned that E.P.C may have used the N.G.O’s to tick their program delivery boxes.” 

“I implore on Program Manager and E.P.C that it is imperative for all concerned that they be more transparent on the Alaoa Multi-Purpose Project as it is indeed a risky undertaking where the safety concerns on peoples’ lives and property are fundamental,” Fiu said.

Papali’i said there is too much “happy happy” talk about the benefits of the multi-purpose dam, and not enough about the potentially risks. 

“They are just interested in telling us there going to be a dam and no more flooding, but what about when something goes wrong? Acts of God happen all the time.”

It was not possible to get a comment from E.P.C. before press time yesterday.

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