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Changing the Conversation around Development Projects: Over 2000 Comments Received on Regional Public Participation Guidelines

Mekong Partnership for the Environment

Citizens, governments and businesses from around the region provided over 2000 comments during landmark public consultations in October to finalize guidelines on ensuring communities have more say in infrastructure projects.

Over 500 participants attended six national events across the region, a number of local outreach sessions and an online comment portal.

With support from USAID-funded Mekong Partnership for the Environment, the Regional Technical Working Group on EIA (RTWG) has been collaboratively developing the draft Regional Guidelines on Public Participation in Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) in response to the shared concern for increasing meaningful public participation in development planning, in the context of increasing investment projects across the Mekong region. The development of the Guidelines is an effort to help governments, companies and communities ensure all stakeholders have a voice, especially when laws or guidance on public participation are unclear.

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The Guidelines and the group’s participatory drafting process, “set out a good platform for joining the hands of civil society and government, along with private sector input.” said Nguyen Thi Yen of the civil society organization Women’s Intellectual Association of Environmental Protection, who participated in the Hanoi consultations. “Public participation is meant to include voices of the public meaningfully throughout the development process. It’s especially important to have guidance to improve the participation of vulnerable groups in EIA processes.”

Throughout October, MPE’s country partners held the public consultations on the draft Regional Guidelines throughout the region; Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, as well as online consultation through http://eia.mekongcitizen.org to introduce the draft guidelines and solicit input and feedback from interested stakeholders including private sector companies, EIA consultants, NGOs, government agencies, academics institutes, and development partners.

The guidelines and discussion were available in local languages and English. The inputs and feedback received will be compiled and synthesized by the RTWG Secretariat and will be considered by members at their subsequent meeting in early January 2017 in order to improve the draft. Once the final guidelines are released in early 2017, it will serve as the key regional tool used to ensure communities are part of the development process at local, country and regional levels.

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Participants from NGOs, communities, government and business discuss the best ways to ensure the public have a role in environmental impact assessment processes (Photo: MPE)

“It is important to have meaningful public participation in the early stage of project development. said Mr. Prapard Pan-Aram, Deputy Managing Director – Nam Ngiep 1 Power Company, who participated in the Lao PDR consultations. “This helps to identify potential problems and build good relationships with affected communities, which leads to obtaining community support for project operations. As a developer, we do not need only an operating license but also public acceptance. To earn trust from the communities, we need to communicate well with them.” The RTWG is made up of 25 civil society and government experts from all five Mekong region countries and is seen as a milestone in bringing the parties together to collaborate regionally on a key policy issue.

There is a growing awareness in the region – among government, civil society, and private sector – that EIA processes need to be more effective if we are to ensure more socially and environmentally responsible investments. The RTWG hopes that the draft guidelines will change the conversation around development projects by giving a voice to those directly affected by them and benefit communities, investors and the environment.

 

This is an outreach announcement from the USAIDfunded Mekong Partnership for the Environment(MPE), a key supporter of The Mekong Eye

The RTWG is also supported through our partners Asian Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Network.

Lead Photo: A representative from an international organization provides feedback how to effectively implement the guidelines in Lao PDR and across the region at public consultation in Vientiane      (Photo: MPE)