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Tuesday, May 9, 2000

Asia Development
Bank convention
planned here

The meetings will be
held here next spring

Bank meeting ends with protests

By Tim Ruel


The Asian Development Bank, wary of recent protests aimed at international financial organizations, has picked Honolulu over Seattle for its 34th annual meeting next spring.

The bank, owned by 58 member countries, plans to bring about 2,000 attendees to the Hawaii Convention Center around this time in 2001, including 1,000 of the world's top bankers, a spokesman said yesterday from the bank's headquarters in Manila.

Robert J. Fishman, chief executive officer of the Hawaii Tourism Authority, and representatives from Gov. Ben Cayetano's office attended the bank's just-concluded annual meeting in Thailand and were negotiating the details for next year's conference, said Tony Vericella, president and CEO of the Hawaii Visitors & Convention Bureau.


Bullet What: A financial institution that lends about $6 billion a year to poor Asian nations, including India, Cambodia, Vietnam, Nepal and Sri Lanka.
Bullet Headquarters: Manila
Bullet Staff: 2,000
Bullet Founded: 1966
Bullet Members: 58 countries, including more than a dozen outside Asia. The two largest shareholders are the United States and Japan, each providing 16 percent of capital as of 1997.

They are expected to return later this week, Vericella said today. He stressed that negotiations were ongoing. Among the details to be worked out, he said, is how the conference will be funded. The state and the ADB will look for mainland corporations to help sponsor the meeting, he said.

The bank, heavily funded by the United States, is responsible for $6 billion in loans every year to poor Asian nations.

"It's like the world bank, but focused on Asia," said Bob Lees, secretary general of the Pacific Basin Economic Council. International heads of state typically attend the meetings and give speeches, he said.

As many as 400 members of the international media attend the meeting, which should bring worldwide attention to Honolulu, ADB spokesman John Cole said.

This year's annual meeting in Thailand, however, produced some negative publicity for the bank. The conference ended yesterday in a luxury hotel surrounded by about 2,000 riot police and 1,200 protesters who opposed the bank's projects.

That followed the December failure of the World Trade Organization's meeting in Seattle, where tens of thousands of protesters pummeled the city and forced an early end to global trade talks.

Seattle police in riot gear faced lines of demonstrators, some dressed as sea turtles and butterflies. The protesters represented a range of grievances against the wealthy nations of the WTO, including exploitation of the environment and neglect of poor nations.

The ADB reportedly picked Honolulu over Seattle for next year's meeting to avoid further disturbances.

Lees said he doesn't expect turmoil at the convention center next year. In fact, he thinks Hawaii's image as a more peaceful place is part of the reason the bank is coming here.

The Pacific Basin Economic Council, which held its annual meeting at the convention center in March, brought several hundred international business people to the state and saw relatively few protests, Lees said.

He said he does not expect more than a few protesters at the ADB meeting next year.

"It's hard to bus 'em in here," Lees said of the protesters who flocked to Seattle from around the country in well-organized groups. He added that the ADB is also seen as more sensitive to the concerns of the public.

Sandra Moreno, HVCB vice president for meetings, conventions and incentives, said the level of protests in Seattle apparently took authorities by surprise and although Hawaii's isolation should keep such activities to a minimum, everyone will be prepared.

"There is always cause for concern when there are protests. We would never take anything like that lightly," she said.

Lees said the success of PBEC's March meeting definitely helped sell Hawaii to the bank. "Our members left thinking of Hawaii in a whole different light as a result of that meeting," he said.

The ADB made its decision in the past few weeks, Cole said.

Vericella said the HVCB will help coordinate next year's event once the negotiations between the state and bank are completed.

Associated Press
Thai protestors dismantle police barricades, above, during
a protest Sunday outside the Asian Development Bank meeting
in Chiang Mai, Thailand. More than 4,000 protestors pushed back
police to just outside the hotel where the meeting was being held.

Protests, scrutiny
sting Asian bank

Critics say the institution is
failing in its mission to reduce
poverty in Asia

By Patrick McDowell
Associated Press


CHIANG MAI, Thailand -- The Asian Development Bank has become the latest victim of protests and new scrutiny that has dogged the big multilateral economic institutions since the World Trade Organization's debacle in Seattle last year.

The bank concluded a three-day annual meeting yesterday in a luxury hotel that resembled an armed camp, ringed by an estimated 2,000 riot police to keep out about 1,200 mostly poor Thais protesting that bank-funded projects like dams have ruined their lives.

The United States, which has a 13 percent stake in the bank, signaled during the meeting that it is not prepared to put up more money in a new capital increase, saying the bank should make better use of the funds it has.

The refusal put Washington and similarly minded European members of the board of governors on a collision course with Japan, which also has a 13 percent stake and dominates the bank's management.

Washington has urged the bank to be more selective in the loans it makes to developing countries and not compete with lending better made by the private sector.

The differences were papered over in end-of-conference notes issued by Tadao Chino, the bank's Japanese president, saying that governors had agreed to go ahead with a study of the bank's resources and needs, while also agreeing the institution needed to be more efficient.

The bank's mission is to reduce poverty in Asia, where it says 900 million people live on less than $1 a day.

Associated Press
A Thai police officer stands guard over demonstrators yesterday.

Critics charge it with being more comfortable with doing deals with governments and big business than consulting with the people it intends to help.

The same criticism has been leveled the past six months against the WTO, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank -- the international economic institutions on which the ADB is modeled.

Edwin M. Truman, the U.S. Treasury's assistant secretary for international affairs, told the board Sunday that "we must find concrete ways to strengthen popular participation."

The point was driven home by daily protests outside the delegates' hotel. Fire trucks with water cannon were parked next to Mercedes-Benz cars and tour buses ferrying the delegates.

Many demonstrators came from a coastal area south of the capital, Bangkok, where the ADB is helping fund a mammoth wastewater treatment plant to clean up pollution from barely regulated industries that sprouted over the years.

The villagers, who make their living mostly from fishing and farming, see the location of the facility as punishment for a mess they didn't make.

The protesters demanded that the ADB stop funding the project and, echoing anti-globalization demonstrations, cease making loans that increase the indebtedness of poor countries or harm farmers and the poor in the name of financial restructuring and reform.

The ADB claims that millions of people will benefit from the treatment plant but has admitted its consultations with the villagers were poor.

Chino sent them a letter Sunday, promising the bank would study their demands and meet their leaders in June.

The protesters said they wanted a better answer yesterday, before the bank delegates went home. When they got the same letter yesterday, they burned it, lit firecrackers and dispersed.

Weeraporn Sopa, 33, leader of a farmers' confederation from Thailand's poor northeast, said the demonstration built on the protests he attended in Seattle in December. "I have to warn the ADB and organizations like it they should listen to us," Weeraporn said. "When you still have a conscience, you can control the streets."

Mindful of the unrest that derailed the WTO meeting, the United States has shifted next year's ADB gathering from its original venue -- Seattle -- to Honolulu.

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