The Mekong River Commission (MRC) governing body has approved new operational procedures to ensure greater transparency and accountability over how the intergovernmental agency – entrusted to protect the river – spends its funds from members and donors.
The MRC joint committee also created a system, which for the first time will monitor and report on the usage of the river water by Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
“At the moment, the more significant action of the two taken by the joint committee – composed of representatives of the four member countries – was the approval of updated rules for MRC procurement, data-protection, and financial transactions,” MRC said in a statement on April 28.
The new rules are part of the organisation’s broader institutional reforms, which began in 2016. It includes the evolution of an organisation that is entirely run by Mekong citizens themselves.
The approved procedures encapsulated many of the recommendations made by an international legal and auditing team, which was commissioned in June 2020.
“We use public funds, so it’s important that we are transparent and accountable regarding the monies that we receive. The approval enables us to be both,” said So Sophort, chairperson of the joint committee this year.
Sophort is also the secretary-general of the Cambodia National Mekong Committee (CNMC).
Mekong is a beleaguered waterway, having experienced four straight years of low waterflow, compounded by the effects of climate change, drought and the existence of major water infrastructure projects.
Anoulak Kittikhoun, CEO of the MRC secretariat, was compelled to sound the alarm about the river’s health at a recent event to mark Mekong Day.
On the bright side, he said, 2022 has seen more rainfall in the first three months, signalling a wet year ahead.
According to the MRC’s statement, water use monitoring and accurate water data are essential to craft policies around the world.
According to UN Water, water use monitoring and water data accuracy are not just “wise paths” towards achieving UN sustainable development goals on clean water, but it can also lead to other benefits.
“Credible water sector data will underpin advocacy, stimulate political commitment and public and private investments, inform decision-making at all levels and trigger well-placed investment targeted at optimum health, environment and economic gains,” MRC said.
On the Lower Mekong River Basin, the MRC ministerial council approved the Procedures for Water Use Monitoring (PWUM) in 2003.
However, the joint committee document noted that progress in implementing PWUM has been slow, as the MRC secretariat has “limited access” to actual water use data or information in riparian countries, as stipulated in the agreed procedures.
In any case, the representatives of the four countries have endorsed a monitoring and reporting system to “improve the understanding of the water resource status, water uses and users, and enable decisions that enhance the equitable and sustainable management of water.”
“We can’t manage what we can’t measure,” Kittikhoun said following the meeting.
He added that having the data is important, as it will equip member countries with information they can use and also make decisions.
“That also means we’ll be using the Mekong waters more responsibly,” Kittikhoun remarked.
With the new approval, the next step for the MRC secretariat is to test out the new system, by preparing and launching pilots among the four countries.