The Mekong River Commission (MRC) will remain a key driving force in bringing unity and sustainability to the development of areas along the mighty river despite the reduced budget projected for the upcoming decade.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with Vientiane Times on Monday, the MRC’s CEO, Mr Pham Tuan Phan, said international donors are reducing their financial support so that MRC member states will need to contribute more to the annual budget of this inter-governmental organisation.
The reduction of international financial support and the increase in funding contributions from commission members is in accordance with the strategic plan and roadmap approved by the Commission’s council of ministers, he said.
According to information supplied by the Commission, the budget for 2016-2020 is about US$65 million. This figure is expected to drop to US$10 million by 2020, US$9 million by 2025, and US$6.5 million by 2030.
Australia, the European Union, Germany, the Netherlands, Sweden, Switzerland and the World Bank are the major sources of the MRC’s funding.
The governments of Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand have already adopted a new financial contribution formula with equal sharing that would secure more than the amount projected in the roadmap over the next 12 years, Mr Pham said.
He denied speculations that international organisations were cutting their funding because of the MRC’s inability to ensure sustainable development of the Mekong region.
He also said the reduction in external funding was in line with the MRC’s strategy to make the body self-sustainable by 2030.
As part of efforts to implement this strategy, the Commission plans to reduce its staff from 150 in 2015 to about 50 by 2030.
Apart from that, the Commission has fully implemented its recruitment policy in hiring staff from the riparian countries. Only people with high technical expertise will get jobs at the MRC, he said.
Asked if development in the Mekong region was possible without the MRC, Mr Pham said that without proper dialogue and a benefit-sharing mechanism based on sound science, development in one country may mean a loss for another country. This may result in regional tensions as had occurred in the past.
“But when there is a proper platform for countries to work together, exchange dialogue and share benefits, the chances are that this creates the opportunity for cooperation and peace to grow,” he added.
This is where the MRC plays the most important role, as a knowledge hub and platform for water diplomacy and regional cooperation.
“Despite diverging national interests, the MRC has the ability to make development in the Mekong region more sustainable, bringing unity and prosperity to the region,” Mr Pham said.
“And if we are to see the sustainable development of the Mekong River and its water and related resources so that it contributes to poverty alleviation and economic growth, the MRC will remain as relevant as ever.”