ADB should help ‘future-proof’ members vs disruptive change

Finance Secretary Carlos Dominguez III said this weekend the Asian Development Bank (ADB) should help “future-proof” its member-countries against the sweeping impact of disruptive change by aiding them in harnessing the rapid advances in digital technologies to improve productivity and strengthen economies.

Being the region’s “main concourse of development ideas,” the ADB needs to develop the means to support its member-countries to prevent them “from falling into the wrong side of the digital divide,” said Dominguez, who is this year’s chairman of this bank’s Board of Governors.  

Dominguez said ADB’s Strategy 2030 is a “good beginning” in meeting this challenge as it provides the institution with a roadmap that will not only let member-countries adjust to the new balance of power in the global economy, in which the Asia-Pacific is the center of gravity, but also help them cope with the enormous forces unleashed by new technologies. 

“Rapid, and especially disruptive, technological progress carries both risks and rewards. The ADB is a vital institution for the region in ensuring the risks are mitigated and the rewards evenly distributed,” Dominguez said in his address at the opening session of the 51stAnnual Meeting of the ADB Board of Governors held Saturday (May 5) morning at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel in Mandaluyong City. 

ADB president Takehiko Nakao, and the finance ministers of the ADB’s 67 member-countries who comprise the Bank’s Board of Governors, will take part in the session. 

“We commend ADB President Takehiko Nakao for the great work he has put in leading this institution through a dramatically changing world,” Dominguez said. “He is committed to the bank’s long-term vision and remains open to reinvention of the institution’s programs as we move into a more technologically driven age.”

Dominguez said living in today’s world means coping with rapid advances in digital technologies, which have both its “upsides and downsides” as these could, for instance, dramatically improve productivity but could also eradicate jobs and introduce greater inequalities. 

Rapid, disruptive change can likewise greatly enhance access to financial systems but also open doors to digital monies like  virtual currencies that no government is prepared to regulate, demand skills that schools are not prepared to provide, and produce virtual constituencies our political orders are not conceived to include, Dominguez said. 

“There is a need to ‘future-proof’ our economies so that technological change makes them strong rather than undermines them. Smart technologies bring great promise but also some amount of peril,” Dominguez said.  “The ADB, as the region’s main concourse of development ideas, should help member countries to better harness the forces of technological change. It needs to develop the means to support member countries from falling into the wrong side of the digital divide.” 

In his opening address, Dominguez said hosting the ADB’s headquarters for a half-century now has been “a source of immense pride for the Philippines.” 

“Locating in Manila was a sound decision. It certainly brought the Bank closer to the realities of an emerging society ---especially an emerging society such as ours with its intermittent episodes of turbulence and also moments of impressive achievement. It definitely brought the Bank an ample supply of highly talented English-speaking personnel to support its operations,” Dominguez said. 

He said the Philippines’ strong partnership with ADB has been “an especially fruitful one,” as the Bank has been a reliable and responsive partner in mobilizing the resources and technical support needed for the country’s development. 

Dominguez cited as examples of this strong, fruitful partnership the Bank’s assistance in building the Philippines’ critical infrastructure to support economic growth and its   generous support during the debt crisis of the 1980s and the Asian financial flu of the late 1990s. 

“We are extremely grateful for this strong partnership. It has enabled us in many ways to improve the quality of life of our people. It contributed to the strong foundations on which we now build a strongly resurgent economy,” Dominguez said. 

Dominguez also underscored the ADB’s “catalytic role” in the economic achievement of the Asia-Pacific region over the past few decades, with China and India emerging as  the principal engines of growth for the global economy and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) comprising some of today’s fastest-growing economies in the world.  

“In a period haunted by rising protectionist regimes and threatened by autarkic politics, the Asia Pacific stands as compelling proof that free trade brings rapid progress,” Dominguez said. 

“This part of the world, after all, saw the liberation of hundreds of millions of people from the grip of poverty. Over the next few years, this part of the world will demonstrate to the rest that free markets are adapting to rapidly changing technologies that provide the best conditions for inclusive growth,” he added. 

Dominguez said the Philippines is at the forefront of the region’s remarkable development, with its GDP growing by an average of 6.7 percent over the past two years and poised to expand  7 percent on a sustained basis to enable the government to fulfill its goal of bringing down the poverty rate to 14 percent by 2022. 

He recognized the role of the ADB and the Philippines’ other development partners for their full support for the Duterte administration’s ambitious infrastructure program that aims to link all the country’s islands and communities to the mainstream of wealth creation. 

Dominguez said the Philippines is now in the process of completing a comprehensive tax reform program to further expand its fiscal space, making possible its immense investments in infrastructure and human capital development.  

According to Dominguez, the infrastructure program “will, at the same time, reduce our vulnerability to natural calamities. It will also foster the growth of manufactures that will lessen our dependence on remittances from overseas workers and from the business process outsourcing sector.”

The delegates to the 51stAnnual Meeting, which number over 4,000, ?include finance ministers and central bank governors of ADB member countries, bankers, representatives from the private sector, civil society, academe, multilateral institutions and the media.

Around 8,000 police officers were deployed to secure this high-level event, which include today’s ADB Governors’ sessions at the EDSA Shangri-La Hotel, and other meetings conducted at the ADB Headquarters in Mandaluyong City and in nearby hotels. 

Anchored on the theme “Linking People and Economies for Inclusive Development,” among the issues discussed during the 51st meeting were globalization, technology and its impact on jobs and corresponding opportunities, private sector mobilization in funding infrastructure, building climate change resilience, expanding opportunities for women entrepreneurs, and using technology to maximize the skills of aging populations to make development inclusive.

ADB, which is based in Manila since its inception in 1966, is dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific through inclusive, environmentally sustainable growth and regional integration.

BusinessMirror, BusinessWorld, CNN Philippines, Manila Bulletin, and the Philippine Star are the host-country’s media partners for the 51st ADB Annual Meeting.