MRC's crisis of legitimacy and relevancy challenges new CEO: Regional Groups

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Today, 51 citizens groups and individuals from the six Mekong countries sent a letter to Jeremy Bird, the newly appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat, challenging him to solve the MRC's crisis of legitimacy and relevancy, recently exemplified by its failure to respond to civil society concerns over plans to dam the lower Mekong mainstream. View the letter, the accompanying press release, and the MRC's response.

27 March 2008

To Mr. Jeremy Bird,
Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission Secretariat,
Vientiane, Lao PDR

We write this letter on your new appointment as the Chief Executive Officer of the Mekong River Commission (MRC) Secretariat. While we congratulate you on this new position, we believe that you join the MRC at a most challenging time. The need for a credible and effective river basin management organisation in the Mekong Region has never been more apparent, yet for the MRC a crisis of legitimacy and relevancy is looming. We are writing to you to express our dissatisfaction at the MRC’s lack of responsiveness to legitimate civil society groups’ concerns.

On 12 November 2007, 201 civil society organisations and individuals from 30 countries around the world, including 126 citizens groups from the Mekong countries, sent a letter to the MRC expressing concern over the revival of plans to build dams on the lower Mekong River, and demanded the MRC uphold the 1995 Mekong Agreement. The MRC failed to reply to this letter. Instead, an MRC press statement dated 15 November 2007 stated that “the responsibility of the Mekong River Commission is to support its Member States…This means that the MRC’s primary role is to serve its Member States in ways it is requested to.

This position clearly contradicts the MRC’s Strategic Plan 2006-2010 that commits the MRC to promote the principles of Integrated Water Resources Management (IWRM), a central tenet of which is genuine engagement with all stakeholders. It is now widely recognised that without buy-in from all those who receive or are threatened by negative impacts, especially communities living alongside the river, equitable and sustainable management of river basins cannot be achieved.

Proposals for extensive hydropower development are proceeding rapidly throughout the Mekong basin, including the Mekong mainstream dams. On 13 February 2008, Mega First Corporation Berhad signed a Project Development Agreement with the Lao government for the proposed Don Sahong dam. This is a marked step forward beyond the preparation of a feasibility study. The Don Sahong dam has been identified by a number of international organisations as a high-risk project. It is located in a potential RAMSAR site and is likely to result in significant transboundary impacts on fisheries, with serious consequences for the food security of riparian communities, as well as commercial fishing activities. Furthermore, the dam is located less than two kilometres upstream of the third largest group of Irrawaddy dolphins in the Mekong River that are listed in the IUCN Red List as a critically endangered species.

Regarding water utilisation on the Mekong mainstream, the 1995 Mekong Agreement, Article 5, states that “During the dry season: a) intra-basin use shall be subject to prior consultation which aims at arriving at an agreement by the Joint Committee”. The MRC’s subsequent “Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement” requires further clarification, as critical details are left aside.

The MRC must unambiguously and publicly state the detailed procedures for notification and agreement on mainstream projects, in particular rules on public disclosure of project documents and related MRC analytical work, processes and timelines for transboundary public consultations, and the current status of each proposed Mekong mainstream dam project in relation to the notification and agreement procedures.

The MRC considers itself a scientific, knowledge-based organisation. We believe that this scientific research, funded almost entirely by donors that have explicit commitments to transparency and accountability, should be openly applied in the public domain as a public service to address issues that are in the interest of all in the Mekong basin. We understand that the MRC Secretariat has already prepared an analysis of the draft Don Sahong EIA together with an economic valuation of the potential loss of fisheries resources that could be incurred by the Don Sahong dam. A key question to the MRC on this is why have these analyses not been publicly released?

The MRC must immediately place these documents in the public domain.

Concerns over the current situation in the Mekong basin have also been raised by the MRC’s member states. We note that, in reference to the Don Sahong dam, H.E. Lim Kean Hor, Chair of the CNMC and current Chair of the MRC Council told the press service DPA on 15 November 2007 that the MRC needed independent expert studies of environmental impact assessments. He later told Cambodia Daily on 22 February 2008 that the MRC was studying the impact that the Don Sahong dam might have, and a report would be released before the end of the year.

The MRC Secretariat must publicly declare the purpose and content of this report, and outline how the public will be involved in its preparation.

The MRC’s donors also expressed their concern in the Development Partners Consultative Group statement issued on 15 November 2007 in Siem Reap, Cambodia: “Development Partners are particularly concerned that public and private stakeholders are not being consulted, and that the cumulative impacts of dams on fisheries and food security are not being given adequate attention.”

Given the widespread concerns over the effectiveness of the MRC, we ask you to respond to the questions and issues raised above and clarify the initial steps that the MRC will undertake, and for your opinion on the role and responsibilities of the MRC within the accelerating development plans proposed for the Mekong basin.

We recognise that your past experience as a senior member of the World Commission on Dams Secretariat makes you well qualified to recognise the significant threat that large-scale water and energy infrastructure present to river-dependent communities and to sustainable development, and for the need for genuine engagement with all civil society groups and communities who will be affected by proposed projects. Therefore, we look forward to receiving your reply.

Yours sincerely,

Thaylay, Burma Rivers Network, Burma
Sai Kher Hseng, Ethnic Committee and Development Forum, Burma
Kyar Pat Lahu, Nationalities Development Organization, Burma
Oum Kher , Shan Sapawa Environmental Organization, Burma
Wong Aung, Shwe Gas Movement, Burma
Nay Myo Mg, Citizen, Rangoon, Burma

Chhith Sam Ath, NGO Forum on Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Somony Pen, Cambodian Volunteer for Society (CVS), Phnom Penh,
Meach Mean , 3S Rivers Protection Network, Ratanakiri, Cambodia
Mak Sithirith , Fishery Action Coalition Team (FACT), Phnom Penh,
Southeavann Chhoeng, Student, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Caroline Sayers , Volunteer, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Bun Sambath , Youth Resource Development Program (YRDP), Phnom
Penh, Cambodia
Long Khet, Youth for Peace, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Suphana Om , Citizen, Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Zhao Zhong , Green Camel Bell, Gansu Province, China
Wen Bo, Pacific Environment, Beijing, China
Hou Ye, Citizen, Kunming, China

Chanthalangsy Sisouvanh, Citizen, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Namthipkesone Bouttasing, Citizen/Student, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Phoutthasinh Pimmachanh, Citizen, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Sengphouxay Inthavikham, Citizen, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Sombath Somphone, Citizen, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Sengathid, Citizen, Vientiane, Lao PDR
Phonexaisak, Citizen, Vientiane, Lao PDR

Niwat Roykeaw, Chiang Khong Conservation Group, Chiang Rai, Thailand
Jeremy Mak, The Educational Network for Global and Grassroots
Exchange (ENGAGE) USA/Thailand
Pim Koetsawang, Friends Without Borders, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Steve Thompson, Images Asia E-Desk, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Sumat Phulaiyao, Living River Siam - SEARIN, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Prayong Atthachack, Loei Fund for Nature Conservation and Sustainable
Development, Loei, Thailand
Somkiat Khunchiangsa, Mekong-Lanna Natural Resources Conservation Network,
Chiang Rai, Thailand
Phra Poolthai Triradhmmo (Lawakorn), Monk, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand
Sodsai Srangsok, Mun River Community Organisations Network, Ubon
Rachathani, Thailand
Suwit Kulapwong, Northeastern Network on Salinity and Mining Study,
Udon Thani, Thailand
Bupatip Chamnil, Rak Khao Chamao Group, Rayong Province, Thailand
Hans van Willenswaard, Resident, Bangkok, Thailand
Pianporn Deetes, Rivers Watch East and Southeast Asia (RWESA), Chiang
Mai, Thailand
Sai Sai, Salween Watch Coalition, Thailand
Montree Chantawong, Thai People's Network for Mekong, Thailand
Supawadee Petrat, Thai Volunteer Service (TVS), Bangkok, Thailand
Premrudee Daoroung, Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance
(TERRA), Bangkok, Thailand
Jiraphat Buain, Youth for Local Wisdom Project, Chiang Mai, Thailand
Aphatsorn Sombunwatthanakun, Citizen/Student, Chiang Mai University, Thailand
Chatchawan Thongdeelert, Citizen, Chiang Mai Province, Thailand
Pathsara Roophan, Citizen, Surathani, Thailand
Wallapa van Willenswaard, Citizen, Bangkok, Thailand
Witoon koomhom Citizen, Rayong Province, Thailand

Dao Thi Viet Nga, Center for Water Resources Conservation and
Development (WARECOD), Vietnam
Nguy Thi Khanh, Center for Water Resources Conservation and
Development (WARECOD), Vietnam
Thang T, Citizen, Hanoi, Vietnam

More information: 

Contact Premrudee Daoroung, Towards Ecological Recovery and Regional Alliance, Tel: +66 2 691 0718-20 email: