Mekong River Commission Secretariat starts move to second office in Cambodia

Vientiane, Lao PDR, 7th Jul 2010

The Mekong River Commission has begun the process of dividing its Secretariat office between two locations: Phnom Penh, Cambodia and Vientiane, Lao PDR following an agreement between the two countries last year to permanently co-host the organisation.

The Secretariat, which currently employs more than 150 people in both countries, was due to move in its entirety to Phnom Penh in 2010 as part of an arrangement made in 1996 to rotate its location every five years.

However, in November 2009 following protracted negotiations, a decision was made by the governments of the four Member Countries: Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam to decentralise the river basin organisation.

"The countries agreed that the practical reality of moving every five years according to the earlier agreement was a logistical challenge for the Secretariat,” said Jeremy Bird, CEO of the MRC. “Besides the expense of moving, it disrupts on a regular basis, the work programme, and human resources, as well as posing a challenge for the strategic direction of the organisation."

“The decision to revise the five-year rotation arrangement will increase efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability of the organisation, and allows us to concentrate on the key development opportunities and challenges facing the basin,” he said.

As of this month, two permanent offices have been established; one in the office in Vientiane and the other at the premises of the MRC’s existing Regional Flood Management & Mitigation Centre in Phnom Penh.

The office of the Chief Executive and heads of corporate services sections, together with two divisions will remain in the current location in Vientiane, while the other two divisions, as well as representative staff of corporate services sections have begun to move to Phnom Penh. The relocation exercise will be complete by the end of the year says the MRC.

Programmes to be relocated to the Office of the Secretariat in Phnom Penh include those that are more “issues specific,” such as the Agriculture and Irrigation Programme, Drought Management Project, Fisheries Programme and Navigation Programme, who will join the Flood Management and Mitigation Programme already based in Phnom Penh. The programmes remaining in Vientiane include those that are more related to long-term basin-wide planning, such as the Basin Development Plan Programme, the Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project, the Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower, the Environment Programme and Climate Change Adaptation Initiative.

In 1996, one year after the signing of the 1995 Mekong Agreement that established the MRC, the MRC Council agreed that the location of the Secretariat would rotate between Phnom Penh and Vientiane every five years. From 1998 the Secretariat was based in Phnom Penh and then in 2004 moved to its current building in Vientiane.



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Notes to Editors

The decision on the location of any international or inter-government organisation can be politically sensitive, as has been shown with the controversy surrounding the location of the European Parliament, which holds 12 plenary sessions per year in Strasbourg, extra part sessions and committee meetings in Brussels and has its Secretariat in Luxembourg.

In 1996, both Cambodia and Lao PDR expressed strong interest in hosting the MRC Secretariat and hence the five year rotation was agreed. The Secretariat moved to Phnom Penh from its earlier home in Bangkok in 1998 and then to Vientiane in 2004.

In 2007, the decision to move the Secretariat every five years was revisited by the MRC Council and it was agreed to search for a permanent co-hosted location to reduce the cost and disruption associated with a five-year rotation.

The MRC Secretariat is the operational arm of the MRC, which is responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin. In dealing with this challenge, it looks across all sectors including sustaining fisheries, identifying opportunities for agriculture, maintaining the freedom of navigation, flood management and preserving important ecosystems. Superimposed on these are the future effects of more extreme floods, prolonged drought and sea level rise associated with climate change. In providing its advice, the MRC aims to facilitate a broad range of dialogue among governments, the private sector and civil society on these challenges.

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