New MRC Secretariat CEO lists top priorities for Mekong basin

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An Pich Hatda. Supplied

Mekong River Commission Secretariat CEO An Pich Hatda is the first Cambodian to hold the position. Appointed by the MRC Ministerial Council last year, Mr Pich Hatda says he wants to bring the interest of every single member country to the table while elevating the MRC Secretariat’s reputation.

KT: What have been the key achievements of the MRC in recent years?

Mr Pich Hatda: I think that in the past couple of years we have seen an increase in the reputation and relevance of the MRC as one of the premier river basin commissions in the world. This was clearly proven in operational review and mid-term review.

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Specifically, the MRC has enjoyed high level commitments made by members Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. This was proven by significant contributions made by members, which are in line with commitments made under our 2030 Self-Financing Road Map. We made the road map so the organisation can be financially sustainable.

Our significant institutional reforms are also our success. Chief among them are the new MRC Secretariat, which is a result of consolidating the Secretariat headquarters in Vientiane. Also, continued operations of our Regional Flood Management and Mitigation Centre in Phnom Penh, and the operationalisation of the Basket Funding mechanism, which is a financial mechanism to allow funding for prioritised activities.

The organisation has successfully led Prior Consultation processes for planned mainstream dams. This particular work has resulted in significant design changes of proposed dams that are expected to minimise and mitigate adverse transboundary impacts. We are striving to provide a genuine water diplomacy platform for broader stakeholder engagement.

I’m also proud to say that we’ve been very open to the public and responsive to the media. This has in turn allowed us to enjoy a wide range of exposure.

The MRC has successfully carried out major studies to increase scientific understanding of the lower Mekong basin and contribute directly to the regional basin management strategies, which are critical to effective planning, management and future development.

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Last but not least, our cooperation with upstream countries China and Myanmar, who are our dialogue partners, has been strengthened. We’ve done this through data and information sharing, conducting joint studies and technical symposiums, and exchanging visits.

KT: What is your vision for the MRC?

Mr Pich Hatda: Considering the anticipated 2019 to 2021 context and the main features of the MRC Secretariat in late 2018, I can see three key aspects the MRC and its Secretariat should embark upon. They also form a part of my vision.

The first is the MRC in the Mekong basin. We are looking to enhance basin-monitoring and assessment knowledge hub and water diplomacy platform that serve the basin’s people and governments’ needs.

The second is the Secretariat. We need a highly-reputed, effective, proactive and environmentally friendly Secretariat.

And third, we need a staff that is motivated, stable, highly qualified, and gender-balanced.

KT: As the first Cambodian for the job and the second CEO of the MRC Secretariat, what are your commitments in fulfilling your role?

Mr Pich Hatda: I’m always thankful for this noble opportunity, and I’m fully committed. I will exercise my duties and responsibilities to lead the MRC Secretariat in working with our Member Countries toward achieving MRC’s mission.

Specifically, I will work to reinforce the institution’s cornerstones, continue to deliver timely science-based knowledge, and propose sustainable solutions that are sensitive to different viewpoints and values.

Over the next three years of my tenure, I will also lead the organisation in expediting the implementation and completion of the current strategic plan for 2016 to 2020. I will also be leading the development of the basin development strategy and strategic plan for the next period.

I will work to direct the Secretariat’s activities that are required to strengthen and enhance the implementation of the five Procedures of the 1995 Mekong Agreement. These Procedures are crucial to the sustainable development and management of the Mekong river basin and its resources.

It’s also my duty to ensure that the MRC presents a coherent corporate identity consistent with its vision of a world class, financially secured, international river basin organisation serving the Mekong countries.

I am also responsible for promoting and coordinating sustainable management and the development of water and other resources for mutual benefit and well-being. Changes will be made, for example, to the physical outlook of the Secretariat.

KT: Given a list of things you have to focus on, what are your top priorities?

Mr Pich Hatda: My first priority is to further build and retain trust and confidence among the member countries, development partners and stakeholders. I will work to ensure that the MRC Secretariat is a trustworthy organisation and an honest broker in water diplomacy.

The Secretariat needs to be led and managed in an efficient and effective manner, and with international standards, in order to serve member countries with professionalism, impartiality, and high integrity.

It is also my high priority to strengthen one of the MRC’s key roles as the regional knowledge hub. For this, I will work to reinvigorate MRC’s data, modeling and information systems, in order to provide enhanced and timely information. This will allow us to timely address emerging issues, such as climate change or sudden water release from reservoirs in the Lancang-Mekong river basin.

Efforts will also need to be further made to cooperate with the Mekong-Lancang Water Resources Cooperation Centre of the Lancan-Mekong Cooperation. I have already planned a visit to China this June to further our ongoing collaboration. I plan to discuss opportunities for collaboration with the LMC, high-level exchange visits by MRC Ministerial Council, and plans to enhance information sharing.

As for our basin development strategy, the next strategy for 2021 to 2030 should include a new Basin Development Plan that optimises benefits and reduces potential risks and impacts, while meeting countries’ needs without compromising environmental sustainability and vulnerable livelihoods. For this, the MRC will need a lot of input from stakeholders and I call on them all to join us.

KT: Cambodia and MRC members have always experienced floods during the wet season and droughts during the dry season. The future is now uncertain. What are your plans?

Mr Pich Hatda: We need to collaborate with others to reinforce resilience. We know that procuring knowledge about current and future challenges is not enough; all stakeholders in the Mekong River basin must collaborate and make informed choices to successfully optimise the benefits and manage the risks of development.

As a first step, like I have mentioned briefly earlier in my priority, the MRC will continue to make efforts to enhance its data and information management to verify and share information and knowledge. Data is our knowledge. It is our power. We need this if we are to provide reliable information and support our stakeholders and governments to make informed decisions.

The MRC Secretariat is in Laos, while our flood centre is in Phnom Penh. My plan is to strengthen the centre to provide fast and reliable early warning systems. I also plan to expand the centre by including drought in it, which is also what our member countries would like to have. This means the centre will become a flood and drought centre for the Mekong region. And my ambition is to make it a centre of excellence. Plans are under way for it.

 

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