MANILA, Philippines-- In 3-6 May 2018, CPDE members from Asia convened in Manila, Philippines to participate in the Asian Development Bank’s (ADB) 51st Annual Governors’ Meeting. As part of its governance mechanisms, ADB holds an annual meeting of its Board of Governors including its stakeholders such as investment partners, government officials, and CSO. But the meeting, with the theme “Linking People and Economies for Inclusive Development,” was far from inclusive with regards to facilitating a substantive participation from CSOs.
While seminars were conducted for “knowledge-sharing” and networking among the private sector including a sole seminar on “Private Sector Participation in Asian Infrastructure Development” and a separate private sector day, only a handful of spaces were given to a few CSOs. For the most sessions that ROA-CPDE and Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN) attended to, the panelists picked by ADB, merely presented a positive assessment of the Bank and hardly entertained questions from the participants, especially from the CSOs.
One of the highlights of this year’s AGM is the presentation of the proposed Strategy 2030, ADB’s new long-term strategy which lays down new ways on responding to the changing contexts and needs of the region. CSOs, however, say that the plan does not radically depart from the previous growth-driven approaches without regard to human rights and sustainable development.
The Bank highlighted the continuing rise of China and India, the creation of the China-led Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, the continuing gaps in infrastructure, and the effects of the ongoing climate crisis as changes taking place in Asia. The ADB identifies five core areas of development: (i) infrastructure; (ii) environment, including climate change; (iii) regional cooperation and integration; (iv) financial sector development; and (v) education. This includes increased investments in its private sector operations.
In a CSO preparatory meeting held a day before the ADB AGM, CSOs criticised the Strategy 2030 for prioritising the expansion of its private sector operations and continued support for PPPs despite increasing evidence of the harmful impacts of privatisation on access to basic social services. The Bank has not also expressed any plan to improve its accountability mechanisms.
CSOs pointed out that ADB’s use of country safeguards systems (CSS) for ensuring that ADB projects do no harm rather than its own Safeguard Policy Statement (SPS) is a problem. CSOs say that most countries have lower standards than the SPS. ADB merely restated its preference for CSS “because we realise that each country may have different levels of capacity in implementing global standards. Our next step is to raise their capacity to help them improve”. Under dictatorial regimes, providing feedback at country-level or improving environmental and social laws can be a huge problem.
For CSOs, ADB annual meetings are significant in that they are venues for setting the Bank’s development investment priorities. Unfortunately, these spaces do not open much meaningful space for debate for most CSOs in the region.. Considering these limitations on ADB’s institutional processes and growth-driven approach, civil society efforts and campaigns would be of paramount importance than manoeuvring in the limited formal spaces inside the Bank.
These campaigns could range from continued engagements with the IFIs and campaigns that call for justice on the impacts of the ADB-led projects and policy reforms on the grassroots sectors, efforts to surface human rights impacts of ADB projects and policy reforms, or directly calling for accountability on the ADB. These assertions of peoples rights and sovereignty should not be ignored in addressing equality and poverty in the region.
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