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Mekong body risks losing funds: donors

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A man fishes near the proposed Don Sahong hydropower project site in the Siphandone area of southern Laos in 2012. INTERNATIONAL RIVERS

Mekong body risks losing funds: donors

The Mekong River Commission must “urgently” clarify how it will restructure and fund itself in the future or risk donors pulling out, development partners said yesterday, as it emerged funding for the intergovernmental body would likely be “much lower” than the MRC had anticipated.

Following three days of meetings in the Laotian capital, Vientiane, the MRC’s development partners released a joint statement calling for more information on “critical” reforms to its governing bodies.

The statement – endorsed by Australia, the European Union, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Japan, Switzerland and the United States, among others – comes less than a week after the MRC referred Laos’ controversial Don Sahong dam to national governments after talks through the body failed.

With six months of strategic planning left for the next funding cycle, donors’ chief concerns surround uncertainty over the future of the MRC’s leadership, organisational structure, staffing, funding arrangements and the cost-sharing formula between member countries.

“Without clarity on these issues as a matter of urgency, many development partners will not be in a position to provide funding for 2016-2020,” the statement said.

As the body seeks to finalise its planning for the coming years, the donor statement questioned how the committee would handle a foreseen downsizing as MRC programs wind up this year, saying “managing staff transition has become critical”.

“There is a high level of uncertainty among staff, with many staff operating without contracts, and an unclear process for hiring under the future structure,” it reads.

The statement also recommended the MRC prioritise its outcomes and suggest alternative plans as donors’ current combined funding of about $33 million was “much lower” than the amount assumed in the plan.

An update on the MRC’s review of its prior consultation process was also called for, in light of “challenges” raised by the proposed Don Sahong dam, which, although opposed by Cambodia, Thailand and Vietnam, is being pushed by Laos.

It also suggested tributary projects, such as the planned Lower Sesan 2 project in Stung Treng province, also go through prior consultation, currently only a requirement for mainstream Mekong dams.

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