MRC To Organise a Regional Forum on Proposed Hydropower Dam in Mekong Basin

AKP Phnom Penh, August 28, 2018 —

A two-day regional stakeholder forum on ‘2018 Priorities: Basin Planning and Environmental Management’ will be held in Vientiane, Laos on Sept. 20-21 to share information on the proposed Pak Lay hydropower project, discuss the MRC’s prior consultation process, and inform stakeholders on the status of several on-going works of the Commission, said the Mekong River Commission (MRC) in a press release.

“The forum will provide a conducive platform for our concerned stakeholders to voice their legitimate concerns and suggestions on the Pak Lay project and other outstanding works. It’s a unique opportunity to have all the concerns aired, recorded and shared with the MRC’s member countries, especially the proposing country, and to find ways to address them,” MRC CEO Mr. Pham Tuan Phan said.

“I highly encourage everyone to take part in this because each of us has a collective responsibility to steer the future of the sustainable development of the world’s greatest river and to care for its health and the safety and livelihoods of our people. In many river basins and countries, transparent and democratic processes are lacking, and legitimate concerns are not aired officially. Given the unique opportunity provided by the prior consultation process, no one should sit out,” he added.

According to the press release, the first day of the forum will be dedicated to information sharing and consultation on the Pak Lay project and its prior consultation process under the MRC’s Procedures for Notification, Prior Consultation and Agreement (PNPCA).

The second day will be for the work-in progress of the MRC that highly involves stakeholders’ interest. Included in the session are updates and discussions on a joint action plan for the Pak Beng hydropower project, joint environmental monitoring of mainstream hydropower projects, Xayaburi design changes review, update of the preliminary design guidance for proposed mainstream dams in the lower Mekong basin, among others.

Stakeholders will be invited to provide feedback, make suggestions and hear these updates. Their views will be recorded and included in a regional information sharing report to be shared with the public and considered by the MRC’s Joint Committee (JC), a body consisting of four member countries’ representatives where the consultation takes place.

Based on past experience, stakeholders’ concerns have added valuable input to and emphasis on improving both the prior consultation process and its extended impact. For example, the need to focus on transboundary socio-economic issues and mitigation measures to improve fish pass and sediment transport and to monitor impacts in the post-construction stage were taken up and considered highly.

The Lao National Mekong Committee (LNMC) on Aug. 20 clarified the Pak Lay project was “not a new development proposal”. In an official letter to the MRC, the LNMC said the project had obtained numerous government’s legal approvals and undergone feasibility studies and impact assessments. The Lao government submitted the project for prior consultation, it added, in order to further take into account legitimate concerns of member countries and stakeholders on the proposed project.

The clarification was made, following the recent announcement by the Lao Prime Minister to suspend all new investments in the hydropower sector in the country, to elucidate whether the premier’s decision would affect the prior consultation process of the Pak Lay project.

The prior consultation is part of the MRC’s procedural rules on cooperation on water use of the Mekong mainstream governed by PNPCA. Under the Procedures, any infrastructural project using the mainstream water during the dry season within the same basin, as well as during the wet season between two basins, must undergo the prior consultation process. Applicable projects include large-scale irrigation and hydropower development which may cause significant impacts on the environment, water flow and quality of the Mekong mainstream.

In the prior consultation process, the notified member countries will review technical aspects of the proposed project, assess any potential transboundary impacts on the environment and livelihoods along the riparian communities, and suggest measures to address those concerns. The member countries aim to come to an agreement on how the consulted case should proceed. It is not meant to approve or disapprove the proposed project.

Since the Lao government’s submission of the project in June 2018 to undertake the formal prior consultation process, the MRC Secretariat has reviewed the submitted documents and verified their completeness. It has informed the notified countries about the project’s scope and other requirements under the process and facilitated the first meeting of the MRC’s Joint Committee Working Group (JCWG) for the PNPCA for Pak Lay.

At the meeting in Vientiane, the JCWG – who acts as an advisory body to the Joint Committee – deliberated on the project’s prior consultation process and picked Aug. 8, 2018 – the date the meeting took place – as the official starting date of the six-month process.

A detailed implementation roadmap of the entire consultation process will be tabled for discussion this week as members of the Joint Committee convene their meeting in Vientiane.

The MRC is an intergovernmental organisation for regional dialogue and cooperation in the lower Mekong river basin, established in 1995 based on the Mekong Agreement between Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand, and Viet Nam. The organisation serves as a regional platform for water diplomacy as well as a knowledge hub of water resources management for the sustainable development of the region.

By Khan Sophirom