Shalmali Guttal, May 2, 2001

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) has started off on the wrong foot with its Hawaiian hosts in preparation for the 34th Annual General Meeting (AGM), scheduled for May 7-11 in Honolulu. Despite attempts on both sides–the ADB and the Hawaiian Tourism Authority (HTA)-to portray an amicable relationship, preparations for the AGM appear to be proceeding in a general atmosphere of nervousness, suspicion and mutual mistrust.

Saber Rattling and Large Samoans

One of the major sticking points appears to be the unwarranted levels of security that the Hawaii Police Department (HPD) and the HTA are lining up to deal with “worst case scenarios.” This includes putting the Hawaii Army and Air National Guard on alert, special training of all security personnel to handle protests and other “situations” that might come up during the AGM, closing of public parks to provide staging areas for the HPD, and even alterations of bus routes during the meeting. All leaves of security department staff have been cancelled and the Honolulu City Council has even attempted to push through a special, draconian package of bills designed to deter protests during the period of the AGM.

The HPD estimates that it will cost about $ 6 million to provide security for the conference, at least $ 500,000 of which would go towards the purchase of riot gear. So far, the Governor of Hawaii has agreed to provide $ 1 million and the HTA will cover about half the required amount with funds earmarked for tourism. Robert Fishman, the HTA Executive Director is hoping that the US Federal government will reimburse a sizeable portion of the security costs. Expenses include purchase of special equipment, overtime pay for the HPD, Army and National Guard, and hiring of other security personnel, including drivers for cars for visiting finance ministers and high level delegates from the ADB’s member countries.

Although it is common practice that the country hosting the AGM handles all aspects of security (including costs), the ADB is getting increasingly nervous about what it perceives as the HPD’s private agenda of beefing up its security capacity and apparatus on the coattails of the AGM. According to an ADB source, the organisation is very concerned about the “stress” that has risen in Honoluluby the attention that the press has given to the security build-up and its associated costs to Hawaiian taxpayers. The ADB is also apparently getting quite anxious about “scare-mongering by troublemakers that threaten to stir negative sentiments among indigenous Hawaiian citizens.”

At the same time, the ADB is worried that the high powered delegates to the AGM–likely to include US President George W. Bush–might not be adequately protected from the organisation’s critics and detractors. Apparently, the HPD has refused to provide security on the premises of the Hawaii Convention Centre (HCC), the venue of the AGM. To add insult to injury, US State Department rules do not permit ADB President Tadao Chino to be received at the bridge of his plane upon arrival in Honolulu since he is not a Head of State. The thought of its leadership, delegates and senior management having to deal with buses and taxis “the same as all other passengers,” has clearly thrown the ADB for a loop.

ADB staff and management are in a hard place. On one hand, they are extremely apprehensive about what they perceive as the HPD’s “saber rattling” and the fact that the local security company hired to control demonstrators is primarily made up of “large Samoans.” They are well aware of the damage from negative press in case of violence and mishandling of protestors by the security authorities. At the same time, they are pushing local authorities to identify alternative annual meeting venues “in case of siege.”

The NGO Menace

Amazingly, one of the ADB’s biggest fears in Honolulu is the presence of NGOs, who they expect will stage demonstrations to disrupt many of the events scheduled for the week and also steal the limelight away from the AGM. According to an ADB source, the single, most important security issue for both the ADB and local authorities are NGOs.

At the same time, the ADB is also looking for ways to “distract” local activists and Hawaiian indigenous peoples alliances from using the AGM as an opportunity to raise their own specific concerns and issues. For this, they turned to Dr. Seiji Naya, a prominent member of Honolulu’s business community and former ADB staff. Dr. Naya apparently met quite a few times with several “radicals” for native Hawaiian issues, who are known to have “volatile” personalities. Mr. Naya made it clear to senior ADB staff that unless diverted and distracted, the views and activities of these radicals combined with their association with NGOs abroad, threaten to “escalate” into rallies and demonstrations during the AGM.

In order to preempt such NGO incursions and to engage NGOs in a “constructive, positive manner, ” the ADB prepared an Action Plan on ADB-NGO Cooperation. Some notable actions proposed in this plan:

  1. Identifying contact persons who are able to provide information on the NGO situation as well as public relations, and who have the ADB’s agenda in mind, rather than that of the authorities in Hawaii.

  2. Training on working with NGOs (with the help of special consultants hired for this purpose).

  3. Arranging the ADB President Tadao Chino’s meeting with NGOs on May 8 in a setting that is conducive to “good communication” with the NGOs.

  4. Coordinating information and responses to ensure consistency in what ADB staff say so that everyone “is singing from the same songsheet.”

A strategy proposed by Mr. Naya to diffuse confrontation between ADB staff and NGOs is to bring selected ADB staff and NGOs to a forum that allows “free and frank discussion” about matters of perceived mutual interest and concern.” This forum would be separate from what Hawaiian activists have denounced as the “Fake Forum” (another diversionary discussion platform originally planned for the same time as the AGM.).

ADB staff seem particularly apprehensive about guarding President Tadao Chino from the NGO menace. But at the same time, they are also keen to portray an image of open, relaxed and unconventional leadership in the organisation. Two additional options for informal meetings between President Chino and NGOs have been discussed. If these meetings were to materialise, there would be no prior announcement of the President’s visit so as to maintain “an element of spontaneity” and to allow “flexibility” should the President suddenly get too busy to show up.

ADB staff are also taking special measures to block NGO attempts to present a petition to President Chino and have cautioned him about this possibility. They plan to have a protocol in place that assigns particular ADB officials to receive petitions and materials from NGOs and other parties.

Image Paranoia

Worries about international NGOs and volatile personalities aside, the ADB is clearly anxious to project the “right image” of itself to Hawaiians, the media and international observers. In so doing, it has attempted to distance itself from the HPD’s security build-up by referring to it as the responsibility of the Hawaii Organising Committee (HOC), a multi-disciplinary committee set up to coordinate arrangements for the AGM.

Since January, this year, the ADB’s Office of External Relations (OER) has launched a communications, media and public relations plan to generate positive awareness about the organisation and position it as “an honest broker.” The OER is attempting to ensure that ADB officials present coherent and consistent messages to support the organisation’s strategic agenda. The ADB has agreed with the HOC that the public relations strategies of the ADB and the HOC should be distinct and separate, and has even hired a consultant to “orchestrate” the ADB message in Hawaii, albeit under the direction of ADB headquarters.

ADB senior management and staff agree that the ADB’ message needs to be simple and easy for local Hawaiians to digest. It also needs to be narrow in scope, given Hawaii’s “general ignorance of development issues and confusion of ADB’s mandate with IMF’s and WTO’s.” In order to get such a message across, a series of ADB missions have visited Hawaii since January to give media briefings to Hawaiian press and to speak at seminars with Hawaiian NGOs, universities and business organisations.

Training on how to handle media interviews and get the ADB’s message across has been provided by the ADB’s OER for all persons identified as the ADB’s spokespersons. Training has also been provided to all those (ADB and non ADB) expected to make presentations and speeches. Other remarkable proposals to win the hearts of possible detractors include the use of re-edited videos about ADB programmes with “more up-front attribution of successes to ADB,” and ADB success stories “with a human face.”

Particularly interesting among the ADB’s image related preparations is the NGO interaction training for facilitators of NGO seminars to help them learn “who NGOs are and how to engage them” and also, how to deal with NGOs “face to face.” The ADB has even hired a Massachusetts based company, the Consensus Building Institute, to train ADB staff on how to relate with NGOs in the lead up to the AGM and during the AGM events. A central activity in this training has been simulation of negotiations between organisational staff and Thai NGOs on the controversial Samut Prakarn Wastewater Treatment Project in Thailand.

Clearly, the ADB is not willing let Honolulu become the Chiang Mai of the Pacific. It is attempting to cover its bases on all fronts-security, public relations, outreach, and even hospitality. There has been a flurry of discussion among senior ADB staff and the Hawaiian hosts about appropriate venues for cultural evenings, dinner events and the importance of alcohol in creating the right atmosphere for networking among AGM delegates, local guests and NGOs.

Starting off on the Wrong Foot

Despite its best attempts, the ADB has not succeeded in endearing itself to the plethora of organisations and committees who will play host at the 34th AGM. Tensions simmer over a range of issues, from tax exemption to perceived competition from Hawaiian business interests.

ADB AGM tradition demands that the host picks up the tab for the bulk of the arrangements, from security to entertainment. In addition, costs such as hotel accommodation and other related hospitality services are expected to be tax exempt, a requirement that the HOC and HTA have had trouble in pushing through. But since the ADB will not compromise on its position (given the protection it gets from its Charter), it is confident that Hawaii will.

Another sticking point is the ADB’s Accompanying Person’s Programme (APP), a programme to keep persons accompanying AGM participants occupied during AGM sessions. Here too, the ADB has had disagreements with its hosts, in particular, the HTA . Selecting Honolulu as the location for the AGM has proved to be an expensive proposition for the APP since everyone wants to visit the Aloha state. According to an ADB source, Robert Fishman, Executive Director of the HTA, proposed that the ADB contribute to the funding of the APP, especially for staff. The ADB refused on the grounds that this would not survive an audit. Mr. Fishman than apparently retorted that provision of free tours for spouses of ADB staff would not survive his audit either.

The ADB has also felt threatened by what it perceives as competition from local business interests. The Hawaii Executive Committee (HEC) is organising a Hawaiian Business Forum (HBF) to showcase US and Hawaiian industry and technology. The HBF will be located at the Hawaii Convention Centre, the same venue as the AGM, and the two events will be linked. Senior ADB staff have expressed concern that the HBF will dominate the meeting and are embarrassed by the overtly commercial face of arrangements for the HBF. ADB staff also seem resentful that the HOC is eager to use the AGM to promote business opportunities for Hawaii and the advantages of Hawaii as a venue for future international meetings.

Early tensions between the ADB and the Hawaiian hosts were summed up by an ADB source, who pointed out that disagreements over issues such as security, NGOs, public relations, costs, tax exemption, and local business interests indicate that the Hawaiian hosts have a “different attitude” from hosts of previous meetings in terms of “the spirit of generosity and hospitality.” These, combined with other commercial factors are likely to lead to negative comments among some participants at the AGM.

The ADB chose Honolulu as the location for its annual meetings for a number of reasons. For one, Hawaii is not an ADB borrower. The ADB has not supported any projects in Honolulu and can rest assured that no local groups negatively affected by its projects will show up at the door. Next, Hawaii is a colony of the United States (US), one of the ADB’s most powerful members and contributors. If the US can’t handle a rag-tag group of protestors, who can? And finally, Hawaii is paradise. Its beautiful beaches, ocean views and sunsets, will offer soothing diversions for those detractors who do manage to beat the odds and make it to Honolulu.

But if the ADB is in trouble with its hosts, who will it count as its allies?