ADB and the ‘Development through Empowerment’ delusion: Page 2 of 4

Posted on 7 May 2013
Indonesia, among others, have proven otherwise. Private sector participation in public services delivery has largely contributed to the exclusion of the poor and has had severe ramifications on issues in equity and access.[4] The usual problems brought about by infrastructure projects under ADB-led PPPs include land encroachment, displacement and resettlement issues. Decision-making structures of these projects are such that they deeply involve bureaucratic agencies and private corporations. As a result, affected sectors and communities are often disempowered since genuine consultation and participation is not practiced.
In such situations where public service becomes privatized and profit-driven, with social costs being pushed to the backseat, the poor are always the most vulnerable. With their lack of paying capacity, combined with the government’s default in ensuring safety nets, the poor end up even more marginalized from access to basic social services that now increasingly “come with a price”.
With a development model that serves the interests of the elite minority, it should come as no surprise why, despite economic growth, Asia has countries with some of the worst unemployment rates; or why 65% of those living in hunger and poverty in the world are in the Asia-Pacific region[5]. All these only further highlight the exclusionary character of the region’s growth.
To appease the growing voices of critics, the ADB has crafted the attractive rhetoric of growth that is “pro-poor” and “inclusive”. For this to materialize, the bank stressed the importance of addressing governance issues leading to the poor performance of public services such as power, water supply, health, education, and nutrition. Despite substantial sums of money spent on public services, the ADB says, the expenditure often does not reach the poor while misallocation of funds and their diversion into private pockets are common.
While corruption is an important concern, to identify it as the overriding problem is to miss the point altogether. Businesses and transnational corporations, having grown in size and power, have subsequently developed strong links with governments to ensure that their interests are prioritized over local peoples. Often, their operations have greatly contributed to massive exploitation of natural resources and frequent abuse of human rights, with government intervention either absent or in support of business lobbyists. The tendency is to frame resulting problems as a mere corruption issue that should be tackled by stopping government officials from taking corporate bribes. What is often sidestepped are the bigger imperatives: that governmental policies uphold the public interest over corporate agenda, and that these corporations remain directly accountable to the people for the impacts of their operations.
ADB’s case shows how, as with most international institutions, the “good governance” catchword is oftentimes being promoted merely as part of a pre-packaged neoliberal call—for governments to practice efficiency and transparency in strengthening private investors’ rights and free market mechanisms through legislation, combating corruption to ensure a “level playing field”, and conducting democratic processes through elections.
While it has identified four components of good governance – accountability, participation, predictability and transparency – all four are set into motion by policy and sectoral reform
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