Friday, February 9, 2001
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Posted on: Friday, February 9, 2001

Asian Development Bank public forums planned

By Michele Kayal
and Glenn Scott
Advertiser Staff Writers

Saying everyone deserves a chance to join in discussions about globalization and development, local organizers planning for the Asian Development Bank’s annual meeting in Honolulu plan to hold a series of public forums leading up to the May 7-11 gathering.

Dates, locations and formats for the forums have not been set, Brenda Foster, an executive assistant to Gov. Ben Cayetano, said yesterday.

Headquartered in Manila, Philippines, the Asian Development Bank is a finance institution owned by 60 member nations. It underwrites about $6 billion worth of development projects a year in Asia and the South Pacific, with the chief aim of reducing poverty.

The general meeting at the Hawaii Convention Center will attract about 3,000 participants, including finance ministers of most member countries. As head of state of the host country, President Bush has been invited to open the event, but it is not known whether he will attend.

Representatives of many large nongovernmental organizations will attend as guests, but most meetings will not be open to the public.

Foster said that by sponsoring the public forums, state organizers will effectively extend and broaden the public dialogue that normally occurs when such major multilateral institutions hold formal conferences.

"I just see it as extremely stimulating," she said.

Not to be overlooked, of course, is the potential function of the sessions to serve as what Foster called a social pressure valve for people and protest groups not invited inside the convention halls.

A related proposal, she added, is to run a session concurrently with the bank meeting to give various groups a place to be heard — especially by the 300 to 400 journalists expected to cover the events.

Foster also said yesterday that Cayetano has asked the Hawaii Tourism Authority for $518,637 for equipment the Honolulu Police Department believes it will need for the bank meeting and other similar international gatherings the state hopes to attract in the future.

It was unclear yesterday whether the $518,637 was in addition to $750,000 that Honolulu officials are transferring from the police salary fund to pay for additional police equipment. Foster said she thought the Tourism Authority amount was part of the overall $750,000.

Foster said a total budget for the event has not been established. Because it will draw international diplomats, Foster and Hawaii Tourism Authority chief executive Robert Fishman said the federal government is expected to reimburse some costs.

Fishman, reached yesterday in Washington, D.C., where he is attending a conference, said he was not aware of the governor’s specific financial request, but said the tourism authority probably could draw the money from accounts earmarked to run the Convention Center.

"We have some funds available to us that were provisioned to us in the last legislature," he said. "But I’ll have to talk to my folks and see how the dollars stack up."

The Legislature last year transferred $14.5 million to the authority, Fishman said, over and above its $61 million tourism fund.

International meetings of the Asian Development Bank’s stature generally require security for officials and attendees, but the violent protests seen in Seattle during the December 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization have made security a more prominent planning issue.

Asian Development Bank meetings have been the targets of anti-development protests in the past, but none have reached the intensity of Seattle’s. Foster said she does not expect protests in Honolulu to reach dangerous levels.

Bank officials, in fact, are pointing to their record of involving various groups, including critics, in their decision-making.

"I think it would be a mistake to see the annual meeting as the single occurrence of the year when groups can make their views known to the ADB," said Robert Salamon, a bank spokesman who was in Honolulu yesterday meeting with local officials.

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