The Asian Development Bank (adb) held its 39th annual meeting in Hyderabad on May 3-6, 2006. Scorching temperatures did not prevent a lively network of 100 Indian and international groups, organised as the People's Forum Against the adb (pfaad), from greeting adb with demonstrations, corner meetings, panel discussions, cultural programmes and press conferences.But this was some 30 km away from the adb jamboree. At the Hyderabad International Convention Center (hicc), where the adb and member governments met, security services were on high alert and entry to the venue was heavily restricted.
So what was the outcome of the jamboree? Let's begin with the events, 30 km away. The protests against adb put India's democratic credentials to test, a test it certainly did not pass with flying colours: some pfaad activists were harassed by intelligence agencies and authorities forced the cancellation of the Images of Resistance film festival on grounds that it was "anti-government". Most Indian civil society organisations and peoples movements declined to participate in the official meetings, citing fundamental disagreements with the adb's development model and the bank's inability to stem negative impacts of many projects it aids in India.
At the "Question Hour" with adb president Haruhiko Kuroda, affected people from Thailand, Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka brought up negative impacts of adb projects on their communities and asked the president how the bank planned to remedy matters. Sadly, Kuroda's answers did not allay their fears.
In official circles, there was agreement over the growing gap between the rich and poor in Asia despite strong economic growth in the region. The need for adb to fight corruption in projects it aids and the urgency to promote greater private sector investment were other areas of concurrence.
Although criticisms of the institution were couched in diplomatic finesse, some governors' statements contain clues to areas of disenchantment. These included a call by the us delegation for an incentive system, which rewards staff for development impact --and not how much money they push out the door -- and "senior-level leadership and accountability".
The Australians were in favour of not restricting senior management positions within the adb to citizens of certain countries or regions, and the Germans felt a focus on large infrastructure projects will not automatically lead to reduction of poverty. India asked for a lowering of loan charges, a change of focus from public sector to private sector lending, and adoption of country systems to guide environmental and social protections.
But it's ironic that a meeting that talked about ending poverty did not give an opportunity to the poor to voice their concerns. Official sessions were dominated by ministers, adb senior managers, and private sector tycoons. But are theirs' the only perspectives on "development" that matter?
Instead of excluding the poor through tight security, the adb and governments hosting its annual general meetings would do well to listen to, and learn from, their voices.
The author is Asia manager, Bank Information Center, Washington