12. ROLE OF ESCAP: RETROSPECT AND PROSPECT
This article on Retrospect will necessarily be limited to the eight years from 1973 – 1981during such time I had the privilege of heading this great Organization.
As the fourth Executive Secretary, I had to build on the achievements of my distinguished predecessors, the late P.S. Lokanathan, C.V. Narashiman, and the late U Nyun whose accomplishments were described by the author of ESCAP publication entitled ”ESCAP, 1947 – 1967: Regional co-operation for Development. The author among others summed up the work of my predecessors as follows “Thus under the first three Executive Secretaries, ESCAP evolved from a think-tank to an increasing action-oriented organization, providing countries with economic development projects and programs aimed at regional and sub-regional co-operation”.
During my terms of office I took those developments much further to cover a wider range of global and regional activities and thereby trying to establish ESCAP’ as the first and foremost United Nations Regional Centre in a number of fields where in particular its multi-disciplinary character was a clear advantage.
I assumed office when the world was still dominated by super-power rivalry. The global security environment- underpinned by the bio-polarity of East-West confrontation- influenced the global landscape. International economic activities possessed challenges of immense scale adversely affecting the growth of the developing countries. The Group of 77 developing countries asserted its voice in the international arena for a just and equitable international order focusing world attention on the need for North-South dialogue.
Against this backdrop, I had to steer the organization away from potentially debilitating tension and turmoil of superpower rivalry and rich-poor debates by inducing co-operation in non- controversial issues and formulating regional and sub-regional projects.
A key management challenge was to cultivate a climate of confidence in regional co-operation.
One of my first efforts was to encourage a regional co-operation framework that more accurately focussed on integrated approaches to development that reflected the new power equation and gave proportional attention to the social dimension of development.
My effort to change the name into ESCAP was borne out of my conviction that development should be people-oriented. It brought the Pacific Islands countries and countries bordering the Pacific into the mainstream of ESCAP’s activities.
It took me several visits to China to encourage it to play a more active role. Likewise with Vietnam, I made great efforts to re-activate the Mekong river basin project. Apart from the establishment of the ESCAP Liaison Office in Nauru, South Pacific I established a number of regional institutions in ASEAN and encouraged their participation in several projects to make ESCAP more relevant to their needs.
In my very first statement as Executive Secretary I called for an “Asian Development strategy” which would provide a conceptual framework for an all-embracing program in strategic areas. Such a framework would contribute to the establishment of a new international economic order as called for by the General Assembly of the United Nations. In this context the Commission adopted the Colombo (1974) and New Dehli (1975) Declarations that clearly defined ESCAP’s priorities and guidelines for action.
The years of my tenure had seen a much deeper awareness of the social dimension of development with the overriding emphasis on the human element as the primary beneficiary of development.
Nurturing an organization shift towards this orientation was important to maintain ESCAP’s role as a forward looking and dynamic regional centre of excellence I believe that the new orientation pervaded throughout ESCAP’s entire program and structures.
The promotion of inter-agency co-operation was continuously encouraged and the establishment of an Inter-agency Committee for integrated rural development with the Executive Secretary as chairman became a model of team leadership in co-ordinating varies UN agencies, the committee also greatly facilitated the provision of technical and other forms assistance to countries in the region for development of their rural areas. The initiation and implementation of the integrated rural development became the cornerstone of inter-agency co-operation.
Global issues resulting from recommendations and decisions of international conferences were also reflected in ESCAP’s work programmes. Some special units such as the ESCAP.CBTC joint unit on Trans-national Corporation and the special unit of ESCAP/UNEO co-operation on environment were established in the Secretariat. Other international issues were also incorporated in the work programme of the respective divisions such as on population, women, social development and human settlement.
The creation of the Advisory committee of Permanent Representatives that comprises ambassadors and senior diplomats accredited to ESCAP met on regular basis to advise me on important activities of EACAP I also held regular consultations on issues such as streamlining ESCAP’s conference structure and setting criteria for its work program. The Committee’s value and usefulness contributed a spirit of goodwill and made an impact on the overall effectiveness of the commission and its relevance to the region.
Intensive consultations with member countries and various UN agencies and bodies resulted in a climate of confidence, goodwill and co-operation. Moreover transparency and accountability also contributed to a high increase of extra budgetary resources.
ESCAP’s accomplishments were no doubt the result of close and harmonious working relations with my staff and general service who were imbued with a spirit of loyalty to the United Nations.
The political, security and economic situation prevailing in the region is radically different than during the time I resumed office more than a quarter century ago.
After the cold war, the world has undergone sweeping changes and transition that have brought about new opportunities and challenges. The tension and turmoil of East-West confrontation no longer dominate the global landscape and a drastically transformed post cold- war era in inter-state relations has dawned. The changing relations among the major powers have led towards a new global security environment which are no more anchored in the bipolarity of East- West contention and hence are more complex in its international dynamics and less predictable in its evolution. A new equilibrium in international relations is involving relation in the Asia-Pacific region with more complex dynamics, revolving around the US, China. Japan, Russia and in the longer term a more tightly integrated ASEAN and the prominence of India. The revolutions in transportation, information and communication have also helped to spur the new equilibrium.
National development problems are increasingly having global implications and dimensions and the globalisation of national economies has in turn stimulated globalisations of politics.
Paradoxically, however, the process of globalisation has been accompanied by a growing tendency towards increased regional integration both in industrialized countries as well as developing countries. More than a dozen of free trade agreements and economic schemes have been formed all over the world.
The biggest of them in terms of the total GNP is the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA. The second big free trade area is the European Common market or ECM.
Other economic co-operation schemes are in Asia and Latin America. Much of this integration process takes the form of common markets, custom unions and free trade area.
Although these trends may pave the way for more effective multilaterism, in the absence of appropriate policies, such regional groupings tend to spur the formation of powerful and closed economic blocks Protectionism is bound to rise between members and non-members of free trade agreements.
Another reason for regional co-operation is that it could offer a forum to reduce frictions that may arise in the intensive economic relations that exist among the countries in the region. Through this forum, countries could consult on, and when possible, co-ordinate their economic policies.
ASEAN, SAARC, ECO, PACIFIC FORUM and APEC are the main fora that are being relied upon to promote sub-regional and regional co-operation in the Asia Pacific region.
The Organization’s principal role and functions can be grouped into four categories; an inter-governmental forum, a leading research facility, a source of development information and provider of technical assistance.
With more than half a century of experience, ESCAP is well placed to initiate region-wide consultations, inter-alia, with sub-regional, regional economic groupings and the business community on a regional order incorporating the objectives, principles and guidelines governing relations between countries based on genuine inter-dependence, mutuality of interest and of benefits and shared responsibility. Some ingredients for such an order could already be found in agreements such as the Declaration of ASEAN Concord which established a code of conduct where non-intervention, consultation, pacific settlement of dispute and voluntary self denial are the key underlying principles.
The principles agreed upon by APEC in the promotion of economic and technical co-operation such as non-discrimination, transparency and flexibility is another example.
ESCAP as a research facility
As a research facility ESCAP has undertaken valuable studies to enhance co-operation in the Asia Pacific region. The example is the important ESCAP study on the strengthening of regional co-operation in human resources development.
There is however other areas that ESCAP is well positioned to undertake. A study on strengthening North Asia and South East Asia co-operation would add immense understanding of the challenges and opportunities for greater co-operation.
Study analyse, among others, on economic growth and energy demand are also needed since at present oil imports for Japan, Southern China, North and South Korea come through the Southeast Asia straits.
The region’s energy needs and security concerns are inseparable issues.
ESCAP as a development information source
The linkages established through the promotion of human resource development should be further expanded to cover other disciplines of economic and social development. In addition ESCAP should encourage the process of upgrading and improving its information management resources and requirements, exploring the potentials of Internet to gather worthwhile data on development sources. The storage and dissemination of these data is another problem that also deserves serious consideration.
ESCAP as a provider of technical assistance
ESCAP is poise to make a very significant contribution in technical assistance in the region. The Organization’s vast experience in providing technical assistance could be of immense benefit but a significant increase in its financial and manpower base is a prerequisite.
Beside the traditional channel of potential donors contribution, I believe that ESCAP should explore innovative ways to enhance the financing of technical assistance.
One area that needs specific efforts is the area of South-South co-operation sometime referred to as Technical co-operation among developing countries (TCDS) within the UN system. I believe that ESCAP should be more involved in South-South co-operation acting as a catalyst to promote such co-operation. The objective of South-South co-operation should be, among others to reduce undue dependence on the developed countries, and to a policy that encourages the attainment of a new and equitable international economic order. The excellent ties established by ESCAP with their centres of excellence in Asia and Pacific in the promotion of human resources in the region would provide valuable sources of expertise and manpower. In this connection it is suggested that ESCAP should establish a roster of experts in various disciplines available in regional and sub-regional institutions that could be used for mutually beneficial programmes and projects.
Co-operation with NGO’s, the private sector and international organizations should also be further explored.
As we begin the new millennium, a regional economic order could very well be an effective instrument and programme framework on which to base future activities and to achieve security in the region.