VOICE e-newsletter
April-May 2008, Issue 3



1. VOICE national consultation and briefing papers: 'Hear the Unheard: A Reality Check on ADB's Operations in Bangladesh'
2. VOICE Seminar: 'Gender Equality through Reflect Circles in Rural Bangladesh' at IUBAT, Uttara
3. BUILDING ONLINE COMMUNICATION: Training on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)
4. Peoples' Right to Information: IFI's accountability-VOICE organized a meeting at Rajshahi
5. ADB Annual General Meeting in Madrid, Spain
6. National Consultation on ADB: Press Coverage
7. EURODAD publishes a new report on aid effectiveness: 'Turning the Tables: Aid and Accountability under the Paris framework.'

1. VOICE national consultation and briefing papers: 'Hear the Unheard: A Reality Check on ADB's Operations in Bangladesh'

A National Consultation was held on April 26, 2008 at the National Press Club in Dhaka titled 'Hear the Unheard: A Reality Check on the ADB's Operations in Bangladesh: Impacts of Policies and Projects on People's Life and National Economy,' as part of an advocacy campaign to raise awareness on the issue of the ADB in Bangladesh, just a week before the ADB Annual General Meeting in Madrid at the beginning of next month.
Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, executive director of VOICE, led off by presenting the keynote paper, and also moderated the seminar. Md. Shamsoddoha, Secretary of EJWG, Kazi Javed Khaled Pasha from Coastal Development Partnership in Khulna, and Tauhid Ibne Farid of ActionAid Bangladesh, also presented brief speeches on their experiences with ADB projects and policies. Asgar Ali Sabri, Arup Rahee, Md. Hilaluddin, Zakir Hossain, Arshad Siddique, Zakir Kibria, and Prodip Kumar Roy also participated in the discussion.
A panel discussion, led by Professor Anu Mohammad, Department of Economics at Jahangirnagar University, Mr. Hasanul Haq Inu, President of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal, Mr. Saiful Haque, General Secretary of the Worker's Party of Bangladesh, and Mrs. Shirin Akter, President of Karmajibi Nari also took place.
To read the media coverage please visit our site or follow these links: The New Nation The Bangladesh Today The New Age Amader ShomoyThe full news articles are also included at the end of this newsletter..

VOICE also published 5 briefing reports (4 in English and 1 in Bengali) on the topic of the ADB in Bangladesh especially for the National Consultation.
1. The ADB in Bangladesh: ‘Country Strategy and Programme': A Corporate Biasby Tanim Ahmed
Journalist Tanim Ahmed dissects the 4-year development plan proposed by the ADB, exposing the Bank's clear corporate bias behind its claims of poverty reduction. Through trenchant analysis of their Bangladesh policy, Ahmed summarizes frankly their intentions in the poverty, governance, private sector, agriculture and natural resources, transport, energy and health sectors.
2. Water for Sale? Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority: A project financed by ADB for Privatizationby Tanim Ahmed
In this paper Tanim Ahmed delivers a detailed assessment of the ADB's proposed privatisation of the water distribution system, starting with a well-constructed history of recent events in water rights. Ahmed breaks down the agenda behind their proposal, including conditionalities and their recommendations to DWASA.
3. The ADB in Bangladesh: A Look Back or A Leap Backward?By Parker Mah
Using the ADB's 'Achieving Results Together: 25 years with the Bangladesh Resident Mission' as a starting point, Parker Mah uses the recently published 25-year rosy retrospective as a platform to criticise the ADB. Balancing ADB's optimistic claims with the reality through research and statistics, this document is a good primer on the ADB's activities in Bangladesh.
4. Projects of Mass Destruction and the Asian Development Bank: The Case of the Phulbari Coal Projectby Anu Mohammed
With the mixture of insightful analysis and activist passion typical of Anu Mohammed, this paper lays bare the near-tragedy of the Phulbari Coal Mine project, now shelved due to intense popular resistance. Read the story of the open-pit coal mine proposed by the Bank and other projects of mass destruction.

2. VOICE Seminar : 'Gender Equality through Reflect Circles in Rural Bangladesh'
A seminar on 'Gender Equality through Reflect Circles in Rural Bangladesh' was held yesterday (April 2nd, 2008) at the International University of Business Agriculture and Technology (IUBAT) conference room in Uttara. The seminar was jointly organized by Voice and the College of Nursing of the International University of Business Agriculture and Technology (IUBAT), presided over by the Vice-Chancellor and Founder of IUBAT, Prof. M. Alimullah Miyan.

Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, executive director of VOICE, and Parker Mah, VOICE ICT (Information and Communications Technologies) Intern, presented the seminar, and discussed how Reflect circles empower rural women and build claimant capacities of women toward their rights and justice. The Vice-Chancellor and Founder of IUBAT, Prof. M. Alimullah Miyan, emphasized spreading the idea of Reflect Circles around the country to empower rural women. He deemed it a powerful tool to ensure gender and economic justice. The seminar culminated in the first-ever public screening of a new documentary production by VOICE, 'Reflect Circles: Realities of Change.'
Started by VOICE in June 2007 in the Mymensingh area as a means to empower and educate women, Reflect circles have seen remarkable success within their communities. Village women, a mix of young and old, with and without children, meet every day for 2-3 hours to participate in literacy exercises and discuss community and family-related problems, as well as pertinent environmental and political issues. Once-illiterate women are now able, in less than a year, to write and recognize the alphabet, numbers, basic words, and their names and addresses. They are also encouraged to draw pictures as a positive form of creative expression, and share knowledge and life experience to build the community. Each circle has an Action Plan based on the specific problems of the community, such as early marriage, the dowry system, domestic abuse, sanitation, etc. Some groups have successfully been able to challenge local government or solve domestic disputes.
After a brief discourse on the subject of the Reflect philosophy and the history behind the circles, the floor was opened for questions. A spirited discussion ensued, touching on the issues of economic justice, the right to communication, and the problems of implementing gender empowerment programs in a patriarchal society.
Katia Wong, another ICT intern currently working as a visiting faculty member at IUBAT, and Reshmila Lamin of the College of Nursing also spoke at the seminar, which was attended by the students and teachers of the university.
3. Building Online Communication:Training in Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs)
A two-day training was held by APC-member VOICE on March 18th and 19th in Dhaka on information and communication technologies, where 9 people from VOICE and other organisations participated. The objectives were to give the participants a basic theoretical overview of the main types of online media and online communication such as blogs and digital photography, and to demonstrate and practice the creation, editing, optimisation and transferral of these media for the web.
The outcomes of the training were positive as the trainees were able to have a hands-on practice on different computers and thus achieved the following tasks: to edit and resize a picture, and transfer it to the web; to create and format a document for web use; to create and edit a blog post with images and hyperlinks; and to effectively use a search engine like Google.
Two VOICE ICT interns from APC-member Alternatives, Parker Mah and Aude Leroux-Lévesque, were the trainers for this session. VOICE will perpetuate the facilitating of such trainings and will also extend them to a broader audience.To read the original article visit: http://www.apc.org/en/news/training/asiapacific/alternative-ict-trainers-find-their-voice-dhaka
4. Peoples' Right to Information: IFI's accountability
A meeting was organized by VOICE and Borendra Unnayan Procesta (BUP), a local NGO on `Peoples Right to Information: IFI's accountability' on 17 March 2008 at the Rajshahi Gender Development Resource Centre (GDRC). The meeting was attended by NGO activists, journalists and different professional groups. Fayezullah Chowdhury, Executive Director of BUP, acted as a moderator and Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, executive Director of VOICE, presented as a key speaker at the meeting.
Ahmed Swapan Mahmud asserted that people have a rightst to access information and our present government has agreed about this issue in order to disseminate information. Financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank (WB) and World Trade Organization (WTO) are not accountable to disseminate all information to the people. People have not even have the right to file a case against them. People in Rajshahi are not informed about the strategies of the projects implemented in their locality. People have no participation in the design of projects, which are made by consultants.
Several recommendations were made at the meeting which are as follows:
• Investigation report must come out within a certain time.
• Policy makers should be responsible for any kind of implementation policy.
• Anyone should have the right to access the information of certain organizations.
• The WTO and IMF must disseminate all their information to all.
• Before implementing any project in a locality, the people must take part in the strategic planning.
• The project goals and objectives should be clear to all and any kind of corporate activities i.e. business in the name of development should be removed.
• Projects which seem to counter the development of the poor and / or environment etc. must be stopped.

5. ADB Annual General Meeting in Madrid, Spain: Poor are left unconsidered by Asian Development BankMadrid, Spain, 3 May 2008
The Annual General Meeting of the Asian Development Bank's is currently being held from 3rd to 6th May 2008 in Madrid, Spain. The Bank has failed to meet its poverty reduction targets for more than four decades, leaving millions of poor in developing countries.
The Bank is emphasizing private sector development, to which it is allocating 50 per cent of its budget without considering the social protection and human security of the poor. Economic growth, environmentally sustainable growth and regional integration are now the priority areas, while the lending agency continues to ignore public service support.
ADB's strategy for 2020 puts the private sector in control over a country, leaving public services open for the multinational corporations. Also, the Bank has put pressure on the government to cut down spending on public services, and has been advocating for blanket privatization and commercialization while the poor suffer the worst due to reduced state responsibility. Whom does the ADB serve? The corporate bias of ADB ensures private sector making profit over life, while millions of poor suffer from malnutrition and lack of proper access to land, water, and common resources.
ADB's strategy for 2020 and its policies do not guarantee anything in the service of the poor, but guarantee the private sector as their ally in business. Although private sector development can promote growth, rather than promoting poverty reduction,it helps to widen the gap between the rich and poor and create social injustice and insecurity.
What will be the role of the developing countries' governments in Madrid? If they feel any responsibility towards the poor of their own countries, they must question the Bank's policies and strategy. Governments of developing countries should hold ownership of the policy and should hold the Bank accountable for their actions.
Ahmed Swapan Mahmud from Madrid

6. National Consultation Press Coverage
Read the media coverage on our site or follow these links:
The New Nation: Speakers come down heavily on ADBStaff Reporter, Apr 27, 2008
Immunity of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) should be rescinded forthwith to ensure accountability of the international financial institution, speakers demanded at a roundtable discussion yesterday. The special tribunal should scrutinise ADB's operations in the country, the speakers also demanded.
VOICE organised the discussion on 'Hear the Unheard: A Reality Check of ADB's Operations in Bangladesh' at the Conference Lounge of the National Press Club. Prof Anu Mohammad of Jahangirnagar University (JU), Hasanul Haq Inu, President of Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD), Saiful Haque, General Secretary of Workers Party of Bangladesh, Md Shamsoddoha, Secretary of Equity and Justice Working Group, Zakir Hossain and Aminur Rasul, among others, attended the roundtable.
Referring to Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) of ADB as a sugar coated bitter pill, Anu Mohammad said the main purpose of the ADB is to exploit the people of Bangladesh rather than remove poverty from the country. 'A sector becomes vulnerable whenever the international financial institution like the ADB shows interest to come to its help,' he said and added to privatise Bangladesh Railway it circulated misinformation to the people saying that it was a loss-making organisation. The ADB had suggested our government to withdraw Rationing System, close down TCB and BIDC, Anu Mohammad disclosed. He further said people should muster power to ensure accountability of the ADB.
'In the name of privatisation, the ADB was demolishing our service-oriented sectors like education and health,' Saiful Haque said and added Micro or Macro economics could not work for the betterment of the poor. Hasanul Haq Inu said, 'We should ignore all the suggestions of the multinational organisations on reduction of subsidy.' Zakir Hossain said, 'The ADB gobbled up 70 per cent of its aid money in the name of consultation for the project on Saving Biodiversity in the Sundarbans, though the interest on the aid was borne by the people of the country.''We fail to understand why our governments become so interested to take aid which is only 6 per cent of our national budget from the international organisations,' questioned Aminur Rasul. Gabinda Dhar, a representative of the ADB, pointed out to the absence of any Government representative at the roundtable. He emphasised on Government's role at the time of project formulation and said, 'The ADB cannot continue with its activities in Bangladesh without the permission of the Government.'
Read the original article here
The New Age: ADB projects far away from growth, poverty reduction: seminarStaff Correspondent, Apr 27, 2008
Speakers at a discussion on Saturday observed that the projects of the Asian Development Bank have neither brought about economic growth nor reduced poverty in Bangladesh, but have rather increased the suffering of the people. Addressing the meeting on 'A reality check on the ADB's operations in Bangladesh, impact of policies and projects on people's life and national economy', they also demanded cancellation of the immunity given to this regional bank. Research-based organisation Voice organised the discussion at the National Press Club.
'Not only the ADB, but also the other global lending agencies and multi-national companies should be made accountable for their activities in the country,' Professor Anu Mohammad of Jahangirnagar University told the audience. He said that the country was facing two types of dangers, one relating to development and the other to poverty reduction, which he said was the outcome of the wrong policies of the global lending agencies and profit-mongering multinational companies working in Bangladesh. Due to the conspiracy of these companies, said Anu Mohammad, most of the public sector industries have been ruined in the last two decades. He denounced the government's sudden price-hike of compressed natural gas without thinking of its impact on the low-income groups and common masses. He smelled a rat behind this decision of the military-backed interim government.
Zakir Hossain of Unnayan Annesha said the lion's share of the money for various projects was being spent for consultancy. 'But we Bangladeshis have to shoulder the burden of the loan,' he added.'ADB is an anti-people bank acting in favour of imperialism,' said Arup Rahi, referring to the results of the research conducted on the impacts of the bank's activities in the country.
Karmajibi Nari's leader Shirin Akhtar called upon the groups and organisations to come forward in a united manner and stand together against these evil forces to save the country from further ruination in the name of development.'How can a bank talk like a political power in an independent, sovereign country?' she questioned. Representatives from various non-government organisations addressed the function that highlighted the adverse impacts of ADB's projects on the country's economy, agriculture and life.
'The projects of the ADB are being implemented without taking the opinions of the people. Thus these projects cannot be of any benefit to them,' said Towhidul Islam, who works for Actionaid Bangladesh. President of a faction of the Jatiya Samjtantrik Dal, Hasanul Huq Inu, urged the government not to accept the advice of the lending agencies and multi-national companies. 'Let's formulate our own development policies.'
Ahmed Swapan Mahmud, executive director of Voice who presented the keynote paper on the theme of the discussion, pointed out the ill-motives of various ADB-funded projects, saying the bank was blatantly working for multi-national companies as it is not accountable to the government. 'The immunity given to the ADB should be cancelled immediately for the greater interest of the country,' he told the audience.
Read the original article here
The Bangladesh Today: International donor projects against national interestsStaff Correspondent, Apr 27, 2008
The economists called for transparency in the donor agency-funded projects in the greater interest of the nation. They made the demand at the national consultation titled 'A Reality Check on the ADB's Operations in Bangladesh: Impacts of Policies and Projects on People's Life and National Economy' organized by 'Voice', an NGO, at the National Press Club on Saturday. The country should not indiscriminately accept the prescriptions of the World Bank (WB), International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Trade Organisation (WTO) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) as these international agencies are working together with one another in order to create a propitious atmosphere throughout the world so that the powerful states and their multi-national companies can achieve their goals without any obstruction anywhere.
The ADB has been working in Bangladesh in the name of implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) to alleviate poverty. But the agency is continuously interfering into the country's policy formulation activities in the interest of some powerful states and multi-national organizations though it has no jurisdiction to do this, they observed. The international lending agency frequently putting pressure on Bangladesh to denationalize the service sectors, ensure rule of law and build up an import-dependent economy to ensure free access of the multi-national companies to the local markets, they said.
Criticizing the ADB's move to compel the government to privatize the Bangladesh Railway, they said, the agency along with the WB, IMF and WTO made the then BNP-Jamaat government to denationalize the Adamjee Jute Mills to destroy the country huge potential jute industry in a bid to help flourish the jute sector of other countries. Now this agency is trying to brand the country's railway sector as a corruption-gripped and loss-making sector in many ways in a bid to pave the way for denationalizing the environment-friendly public transportation so that the multi-national companies can invest in this industry, they said calling upon the government to take immediate steps to develop the country's railways and water ways, to stop environment pollution and save huge foreign currency. But the international agencies prefer the road transportation development in Bangladesh though the road transport system consumes huge hard-earned foreign exchanges and vast areas of cultivable lands of the country, they said.
Read the original article here
7. EURODAD publishes a new report on aid effectiveness: 'Turning the Tables: Aid and Accountability under the Paris framework.'
EURODAD, the European Network on Debt and Development, has recently published a new report on aid effectiveness: 'Turning the Tables: Aid and accountability under the Paris framework'.The report is also available online at: http://www.eurodad.org/uploadedFiles/Whats_New/Reports/Turning_the_Tables.pdf
PRESS RELEASE: A major new civil society report launched by EURODAD, 'Turning the Tables: Aid and accountability under the Paris framework', shows that the world's rich countries have only made patchy progress in making aid more effective for helping the poor, despite high-profile commitments to reform aid. The report, by Eurodad in collaboration with nine other African and European NGOs, showcases fresh evidence from 7 developing countries. It reveals that some development agencies have introduced new policies and procedures, but many are slow to change. 2008 is a critical year for evaluating how aid is helping tackle global poverty and inequality. It is time to review the commitments that 61 rich countries and multilateral agencies signed up to in Paris three years ago. This agreement was a step in the right direction, but donors still have a long way to go to implement their pledges for a more effective, transparent and accountable aid system. 'Aid is still too often dominated by rich country agendas and spent on their consultants. When those programmes fail to produce results, nobody is held accountable', said Lucy Hayes from Eurodad, the European Network on Debt and Development. 'Donors such as the European Commissio and European governments must deliver on their aid commitments. They have the power and the major responsibility to take the first steps to making their aid money work better for poor people'.This report is based on case studies that have been carried out in Niger, Mali, Sierra Leone, Mozambique, Honduras, Nicaragua and Cambodia.
The report highlights current successes and failures by European donors, and sets out recommendations for changing practices. Some of the findings include:1. Heavy bureaucratic procedures by the European Commission continue to hamper its aid, and make its payments very unpredictable.2. France has been financing its aid to Mozambique by recycling its debt service3. Spanish debt relief to Honduras is boomeranging back to benefit Spanish companies and organisations.
4. The World Bank is still using its aid to try and force controversial economic reforms in Mali.
'It is very hard for us to see what aid is coming into our country' said Christian Lawrence, from the Campaign for Good Governance in Sierra Leone, 'Donors are not transparent enough about their aid and do not account to citizens in developing countries. Without good information about the money coming in, we cannot scrutinise whether it is being well spent'.