Friday, May 11, 2001

Asian Development Bank delegates show a mix of interest
levels as they listen to talks yesterday at the convention center.

Asian Bank
talks an exercise
in diplomacy

Reform, accountability, less
visibility and further assistance
are among some of
the concerns

By Lyn Danninger

Seated around a sea of tropical flowers, the Asian Development Bank board of governors got down to business yesterday.

ADB Conference Logo After brief opening remarks by U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill, chairman of the ADB, and ADB President Tadao Chino, governors from ADB member nations got their turn to have a say. Which they did -- for hours on end -- in a marathon of scripted diplomatic-speak punctuated by polite applause.

The governors began taking their turns at 9:30 a.m. yesterday and sessions ran all day except for a lunch break. They resume today for a half-day of speeches, before Chino delivers final remarks.

Much of what the governors said was carefully worded, spoken in a variety of languages and read from prepared remarks. Through the velvet politic of international relations, the governors gently upbraided the ADB for shortcomings, outlined new paths for the bank and congratulated themselves for past successes.

Ian Gill, senior external relations officer for the ADB, likened the proceedings to the ADB getting a school report card.

"They tell us how they think we've done and what they'd like to see happen," he said.

Typically, larger donor countries emphasized reform, accountability and a more transparent ADB.

From Canada, there was a call for better internal governance at the ADB and more responsiveness to stakeholders.

Canada's representative also said the bank should not try to be all things to all people but rather work cooperatively with other institutions working toward the same goals.

"The bank and other institutions must coordinate and complement their activities to implement country-owned national poverty reduction plans," said Larry Bagnell, head of Canada's delegation.

Japan's delegate, Seiichiro Murakami, also made reference to the same issue, calling for the ADB to avoid unnecessary overlap and initiate more dialogue with developing countries.

Britain called for a re-organization of the bank, saying it would be necessary if the ADB hoped to meet its mandate of substantially reducing poverty in the region by 2015.

Underdeveloped regions stressed further assistance from the ADB.

Pakistan's delegate noted that a prevailing drought and water shortages would claim around $2 billion from Pakistan's gross domestic product and add to its debts.

South Korea's representative called on the ADB to play a more active role in promoting free regional trade, while China raised the problem of insufficient ADB funding for technical assistance projects.

How much of the delegates' advice or admonitions is heeded by the ADB remains to be seen. But ADB's Gill said Chino and ADB representatives would be listening carefully in preparation for today's closing speech. "We take our cues from what they have to say, listen carefully and summarize those remarks," he said.

Asian Development Bank

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