Written by Ann Quon, Head of External Relations
One of the most anticipated events is the Opening Session of the Board of Governors and this year does not disappoint. We are privileged to have the Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Finance Minister Chidambaram and the new ADB President Takehiko Nakao address the packed hall filled with almost 2000 delegates including governors.
In his inaugural address, the President says that Asia must focus on innovation, inclusion and integration if it is to achieve sustainable growth. The Prime Minister and Finance Minister speak about the great strides Asia, including India, have made in recent decades – but are equally blunt about the enormous challenges that remain in a region where inequality is rising fast and where many countries are still struggling to attain all the Millennium Development Goals.
Meeting infrastructure needs of more than $8 trillion dollars over the coming decade is of course one of the most pressing needs in our region, and it was assuring to hear both men highlighting the vital role that ADB must play in marshalling support and finance from the private sector.
No Opening Session is complete without a short cultural performance and the host country didn’t disappoint with a stunning performance by a group of traditional drummers and an exquisitely adorned female dancer carrying flaming torches – “Incredible India” indeed!
The business end of the day’s activities saw lively debate on what’s needed to deliver public services more effectively, with Nobel Prize laureate Professor Amartya Sen, a keenly awaited panellst.
The debate crossed some weighty territory including political will (or the lack of it) in service provision, the need to give the poor a greater voice, the ways communities can be more empowered and involved in the development and delivery of services, and the need for service providers to step up transparency, accountability, and feedback mechanisms.
I was struck by the overriding message that without a vast improvement in the targeting and delivery of services resulting in productive, healthy and literate citizens, Asia’s dream of inclusive and sustainable growth will never be realized.
Professor Sen, who had the audience chuckling when he quipped that instead of anaesthesia, dental patients could be put to sleep by a discourse on public-private partnerships, made the more serious point about governments needing to change the way they prioritize growth and public services. He also urged developing countries to learn lessons on service delivery from the post-war achievements of Republic of Korea and Japan, and highlighted the crucial role that ADB must play in getting services to the neediest.
India’s track record on public service delivery came in for some criticism, but University of California Economics Professor Anil Deolalikar, while acknowledging problems, also highlighted the country’s concerted push to improve access to services, with an ambitious information and technology project which will eventually provide unique identification numbers to all citizens to help deliver welfare benefits more effectively.
It is great to see our younger delegates using social media to get their messages out and encouraging greater participation in the process. Participants in the Asian Youth Forum have been beaming photos, thoughts and memories through Twitter, Moderators have taken questions posed via Facebook and Twitter. It’s encouraging to see how social media and discourse on development issues can be brought together at these meetings.