Stakeholder Engagement and Communication
Stakeholder participation supports good governance and promotes accountability, responsibility, social inclusion of disadvantaged groups and equitable growth, all of which are linked directly to sustainable development. Stakeholder engagement typically follows a recognised three-step process: notification, consultation and participation.
For effective implementation of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, effective engagement of all stakeholders, including civil society groups and the private sector, is essential for building confidence and credibility, and instils ownership, ensuring the sustainability and security of transboundary water governance processes.
In the context of the MRC, stakeholders fall into two main groups: internal and external. Internal stakeholders are defined as government bodies and partners participating in the MRC structures. External stakeholders are non-government bodies such as non-governmental organisations (NGOs), civil society organisations, partners, the private sector, research institutions, individuals and the media.
The overarching goal of the MRC is to achieve sustainable development in the Lower Mekong River Basin (LMB), which can only be achieved if those involved in or affected by developments have a voice in contributing to the decision-making process. The MRC and its Member Countries – Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam – recognise that the benefits of broad stakeholder involvement are undeniable, especially in terms of acceptability, equity, efficiency, cohesion and sustainability.
Stakeholder participation is defined and referred to in all key MRC documents, including the 1995 Mekong Agreement and Procedural Rules, the Rules of Procedure of the Council of the MRC, the Rules of Procedure of the Joint Committee of the MRC, the Rules of Procedure of the MRC Secretariat, Basin Development Strategies and Strategic Plans.
The 1995 Mekong Agreement sets out general mechanisms to engage stakeholders. The five MRC Procedures, that support implementation of the 1995 Mekong Agreement, also provide guidance to support appropriate public participation actions on relevant technical aspects. The Procedures for Water Quality (PWQ), for example, calls for the member governments to raise awareness and promote the participation of the public in maintaining acceptable/good water quality.
The MRC Basin Development Strategy underscores not only the need for stronger cooperation between Member Countries but also between them and Dialogue Partners (China and Myanmar), related regional cooperation frameworks and programmes (primarily ASEAN, ADB, and GMS), and broader stakeholders ranging from international River Basin Organisations (RBOs) and research institutes, to civil society, development partners, and the private sector.
In the Basin Development Strategy (BDS) 2016-2020, out of seven basin-wide strategic priorities, increase cooperation with partners and stakeholders is one priority. Stakeholder engagement has been institutionalised to ensure wide input and commitment to the development agenda. Likewise, the MRC Strategic Plan 2016-2020’s Result Area #2 (Strengthening Regional Cooperation) identifies various actions to enhance stakeholder engagement and water diplomacy.
In responding to increasing interests from stakeholders in the work of the MRC, the MRC Secretariat has recently developed a stakeholder engagement handbook to enhance understanding of the MRC’s principles and approaches in working with diverse stakeholders. The handbook highlights the principles, rules and practices for stakeholder engagement in the MRC's activities.
How Can Stakeholders Get Involved in MRC work?
Involvement and engagement fall into two broad categories: general affairs or governance of the MRC and technical or strategic works relating to the Mekong River Basin that are undertaken by the MRC. The consultative bodies of the MRC dealing with the first category are the MRC Summit, the MRC Council and the MRC Joint Committee, which allow observers. The mechanisms of the MRC dealing with the second category are the various Expert Groups, which allow observers, and Regional Stakeholder Forums, which are opened to all interested parties to take part.
The 1995 Mekong Agreement sets out a mechanism to engage stakeholders who are defined as observers to governance and other consultative meetings, while the Rules of Procedure provide detailed instructions on methods of engagement.
Recognising the interests involved in the basin and the importance of a shared and informed understanding of different stakeholder perspectives, the MRC continues to implement various activities to strengthen relationships with a broad range of actors and players outside the national governments, including the private sector, civil society and academia, and other partners working in the Mekong region. One initiative is engaging broader stakeholders through Regional Stakeholder Forums (RSF).
Since 2016, the RSF is organised every year to address the mutual interests and concerns of the MRC, the governments of the Member Countries and external stakeholders, including NGOs, the private sector, media and other interested groups. The RSF serves as a platform for stakeholders to share information, exchange views and develop recommendations on the reasonable and equitable use of water and related resources in the LMB.
At national level, the MRC supports the Member Countries to conduct consultations with national stakeholders, including potentially affected groups that have not had the opportunity to participate or who previously have not had proper access to communication channels.
Dissemination of Information to Stakeholders and Public outreach
In addition to direct engagement through national and regional forums, the MRC website acts as the main public window into the activities and objectives of the organisation. The website offers a clear and comprehensive view of the MRC’s activities. Publications, or their summaries, and news releases are also translated from English to the four riparian languages to increase accessibility.
Second to the website is the organisation’s social media activity. Stakeholders can access real-time updates on these platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube) and also have the opportunity to provide feedback and interact with the MRC and other stakeholders.
The MRC is active in public outreach with series of events, such as visits and campaigns (both physical and online) that highlight the work of the Commission, and hopes and dreams of Mekong citizens.