Dhaka, Bangladesh
A 'home doctor's half-century

A 'home doctor's half-century

Earlier this December 2017, the Asian Development Bank (ADB)'s Bangladesh Resident Mission celebrated its fiftieth year of loan operations through a lavish ceremony at a hotel in Dhaka, where all connected people predictably got together. One of the hallmarks of the function was the presence of a book brought out by ADB's headquarters specially to mark its half century of existence. Being Asia's most prominent development partner, the ADB's decision to bring out a detectable and comprehensive volume must be praised and taken into serious consideration. The publication brings in preview not only its own journey, but also that of the economies in a nutshell of the whole of Asia and the Pacific island countries. On top of it, the book shows all offices of considerable importance the benefits of writing down their history for the posterior. This book by the ADB, (Banking on the Future of Asia and the Pacific, subtitled 50 Years of the Asian Development Bank) prepared by high a committee of experts under the authorship of Peter McCawley, an economist of Australian National University fame and a close fellow-traveller with the ADB in various capacities, is a highly useful document. As ADB grew from 31 members (19 regional and 12 non-regional) when established in December 1966 to 67 now (48 regional and 19 non-regional) encompassing a great period of the development of Asia over five decades, some of them tumultuous and others positive and golden, the book is destined to be a very comprehensive certification to the history of these economies. It charts the tortuous path that the biggest continent on globe took at different times in its economic journey and lands us with hopes of a fervent 21st century that is full of promise and optimism of strong financial resources, upgraded management, speeded-up processes and above all human reserves with added expertise.. The fifteen chapters of the book start with these words in the first (expressing the purpose of the bank) in clear terms from its Charter (Article1): "to foster economic growth and cooperation in the region--- and to contribute to the acceleration of the process of developing member countries--, collectively and individually." As the book ends with an 'Epilogue: Looking beyond 50 Years' that expresses the aspiration that this 'premier multilateral development bank of the region, will continue in the next 50 years' to build a region that is 'vibrant, inclusive and sustainable', it will be difficult for the reader to disagree and not wish ADB success. In the middle, the thirteen chapters make a journey from Asia in the 1960s through to the five decades of the Bank's life with clearly discernible items. Among other things the reader will find how it handled instability, stagnation and other economic challenges, coped with economic shocks, then increased its capital, released bonds, introduced crisis-related programs and went for structural adjustments. Its agenda widened, new loans were created, first private sector operations got off the ground; and then as hard times came and a broadened international development agenda dawned with increased globalization with all its merits and demerits, the Bank tailored its policies and strategies to changing situations. For the reader in a haste, the book has added a 20-page long appendix of " Time Line of key ADB Milestines" . The 359-page lond ADB narrative is smooth reading; and even non-economists willl be drawn by its tempting text. Aptly termed by Mr Takeshi Watanabe, the first President a `home doctor', ADB has been a participant in, a witness to and a catalyst for Asian growth in general pulling some of the stuttering economies out of the abyss of failed situations; and whatever be the general perception of various shreds of opinions about development partners, ADB's prudent and straight paths have left very little room for acrimony. ADB forsees a six-fold increase in per capita income of Asian countries (in purchasing power parity) by 2050. When that comes to happen Asia's GDP will be more than 50% of the world by that time. Indeed these are achievable targets. ADB President Takehiko Nakao thinks policies like steady macroeconomic management, investment in infrastructure, spending for health and education, continued open trade and investment have led to Asia's progress. ADB-assisted programs of Good governance, social inclusiveness, environmental sustainability (and also security and political stability) have also been conducive to Asia's advancement over the past half century. The Bank noted that $1.25-a-day head-count poverty rate fell from 40% in 1999 to 27% in 2005, but was concerned with rising inequality in such 'large economies' as those of China, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh. The Bank has noted with unease that such 'poverty and inequality outcomes' would have 'major implications for the ADB corporate strategy'. Bangladeshis will be heartened to see that their economy has also been recognised as 'large'. China's membership of ADB in 1986, and especially after its joining the the World Trade Organisation in 2001, made it a nexus of both intraregional and interregional trade. The backward linkages expanded in terms of intermediate goods and a strong stimulus was experienced in some economies of the Asian scene. The ADB took the initiative of moderating external shocks born of globalization through regional initiatives. ASEAN plus 3 (China, Japan and South Korea) is an outcome of such policy. In the same year of 1986, India, though an effective member of ADB from the start, sought its first loan as liberalisation of the economy started to take shape. However, resourceful and populous Iran, after failed attempts to have the headquarters in Tehran in the mid-sixties of the last century, is yet to join. Bangladesh has been a regular recipient of ADB loans and grants, which till date accounts to a total amount of US $ 17504 million as loan and technical assistance (till the end of 2015; and the amount grew larger over the next year). Its assistance started with agriculture, health, education and then spread out to such issues as good governance, capital market and environment. In health, education and energy sectors, three of Bangladesh's most important areas of concern and development, ADB stood out as a steady and reliable partner. The book, printed on recycled paper to underline ADB's adherence to environmental issues, also informs us that ADB accepts that change is needed in the Bank itself if it wants to play the pivotal role of the main development partner of the region over the next 50 years, when urbanization, aging, widening inequalities, health issues and the middle-income trap will pose serious challenges. As suggested, strong financial standing, upgraded human resources management, knowledge and expertise-building, speedier work and greater engagement of the civil society will contribute to an effective functioning of the ADB charter. The book contains three historical narratives-Asia's economic development, evolution of international development agenda and the story of the evolution of ADB itself. As President Nakao notes, it should be the duty of every public institution to keep an objective record in a history book. This publication has done this work with aplomb; and should guide government and public institutions in Bangladesh, and elsewhere, wherever this practice is not in place, to go for such records-keeping without delay. It would protect public property and efforts in a record so that posterior generations can take stock of everything, from assets to policies and thereby steady the ship in unsteady future waters. The World Bank did also have books published on its half century, most noticeably the one by the Brookings Institution Press in 2011, authored jointly by Devesh Kapur, John Lewis and Richard Webb. However being an in-house publication that never hesitated to find its own pitfalls and direction of the correct path, ADB's book will be a satisfying collection for all development planners and other relevant people. The writer is a part-time consultant

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