Vientiane, Lao PDR, 4th Dec 2009
Efficiency, effectiveness and sustainability formed the basis of recent major decision by the MRC Council not to move its current Secretariat every five years and to set up two permanent home bases in Vientiane and Phnom Penh.
"The practical reality of moving every five years according to the earlier agreement has proved to be a logistical challenge for the Secretariat. Besides the cost implications of moving, there is a disruption to the work programme, human resources and challenges for the strategic direction of the organisation," said Chairperson of the MRC Council for 2009/2010, H.E. Mr. Suwit Khunkitti, addressing the meeting late November in Hua Hin, Thailand.
"The Council of Ministers' decision on the future organisational structure of the Secretariat reflects a willingness of the MRC Council to settle the question of the location of MRCS as required under its 1995 Mekong Agreement and to concentrate on the key development opportunities and challenges facing the basin," he added.
The office of the Chief Executive, administrative units and planning programmes will remain in the current location in Vientiane, while some of its sector programmes and staff will permanently relocate to Phnom Penh.
The Secretariat of the MRC, which will spend over US$ 80 million in riparian countries over the next four years, and currently employs more than 150 people from the four MRC countries and overseas, was due to move in its entirety to Phnom Penh in 2010 as part of a deal struck in 1996 to rotate the location of the Secretariat every five years.
Government ministers from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam; the MRC Member Countries made the decision following months of negotiations. The move of the nominated programmes will take place progressively from June 2010 and be complete before the end of the year.
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The decision on the location of any international organization 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 meeting last week in Hua Hin was convened by the MRC Council, whose role it is to make policy decisions and provide other necessary guidance concerning the promotion, support, co-operation and co-ordination of joint activities and programmes in order to implement the 1995 Agreement on the Cooperation for the Sustainable Development of the Mekong River Basin and it has overall governance of the MRC. The 1995 Agreement between the governments of Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam came about as the four countries saw a common interest in jointly managing their shared water resources and developing the economic potential of the river.
The MRC Secretariat, which is currently based in Vientiane, is the operational arm of the MRC and provides technical and administrative services to the Council as well as the MRC Joint Committee. Programmmes to be relocated to the Office of the Secretariat in Phnom Penh (OSP) include the Agriculture and Irrigation Programme, Fisheries Programme, Navigation Programme and Information and Knowledge Management Programme. Those remaining in Vientiane include the Basin Development Plan Programme, Environment Programme, Initiative on Sustainable Hydropower, Climate Change Adaptation Initiative, Mekong Integrated Water Resources Management Project, and the Watershed Management Project. The Chief Executive Officer and Chiefs of International Cooperation and Communications, Finance and Administration and Human Resources will remain in the Office of the Secretariat in Vientiane (OSV).
The MRC is responsible for cooperation on the sustainable management of the Mekong Basin. In dealing with these challenges, 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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