Asian Development Bank Under Fire

Monday May 8, 4:43 pm Eastern Time

Asian Development Bank Under Fire

Associated Press Writer

CHIANG MAI, Thailand (AP) — The Asian Development Bank has become the latest victim of protests and new scrutiny that has dogged the big multilateral economic institutions since the World Trade Organization's debacle in Seattle last year. On Monday, the bank concluded a three-day annual meeting in a luxury hotel that resembled an armed camp, ringed by an estimated 2,000 riot police to keep out about 1,200 mostly poor Thais protesting that bank-funded projects like dams have ruined their lives. The United States, which has a 13 percent stake in the bank, signaled during the meeting that it is not prepared to put up more money in a new capital increase, saying the bank should make better use of the funds it has. The refusal put Washington and similarly minded European members of the board of governors on a collision course with Japan, which also has a 13 percent stake and dominates the bank's management.

Washington has urged the bank to be more selective in the loans it makes to developing countries and not compete with lending better made by the private sector. The differences were papered over in end-of-conference notes issued by Tadao Chino, the bank's Japanese president, saying that governors had agreed to go ahead with a study of the bank's resources and needs, while also agreeing the institution needed to be more efficient. The bank's mission is to reduce poverty in Asia, where it says some 900 million people live on less than one dollar a day. Critics charge it with being more comfortable with doing deals with governments and big business than consulting with the people it intends to help. The same criticism has been leveled the past six months against the WTO, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank — the international economic institutions on which the ADB is modeled.

Edwin M. Truman, the U.S. Treasury's assistant secretary for international affairs, told the board Sunday that “we must find concrete ways to strengthen popular participation.”

The point was driven home by daily protests outside the delegates' hotel. Fire trucks with water cannon were parked next to Mercedes-Benz cars and tour buses ferrying the delegates.

Many demonstrators came from a coastal area south of the capital, Bangkok, where the ADB is helping fund a mammoth wastewater treatment plant to clean up pollution from barely regulated industries that sprouted over the years.

The villagers, who make their living mostly from fishing and farming, see the location of the facility as punishment for a mess they didn't make.

The protesters demanded that the ADB stop funding the project and, echoing anti-globalization demonstrations, cease making loans that increase the indebtedness of poor countries or harm farmers and the poor in the name of financial restructuring and reform.

The ADB claims that millions of people will benefit from the treatment plant but has admitted its consultations with the villagers were poor. Chino sent them a letter Sunday, promising the bank would study their demands and meet their leaders in June.

The protesters said they wanted a better answer Monday, before the bank delegates went home. On Monday, when they got the same letter, they burned it, lit firecrackers and dispersed.

Weeraporn Sopa, 33, leader of a farmers' confederation from Thailand's poor northeast, said the demonstration built on the protests he attended in Seattle in December.

“I have to warn the ADB and organizations like it they should listen to us,” Weeraporn said. “When you still have a conscience, you can control the streets.”

Mindful of the unrest that derailed the WTO meeting, the United States has shifted next year's ADB gathering from its original venue — Seattle — to Honolulu.

ADB Thailand - May 2000 | Actions 2000 |