20 Sep 2018

Asian Development Bank scales up Pacific presence

7:46 pm on 20 September 2018

Health and education in Pacific island countries is in line for a boost under the Asian Development Bank's plans for expansion in the region.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is an Asia regional development organization dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is an Asia regional development organization dedicated to reducing poverty in Asia and the Pacific. Photo: AFP/ Jay Directo

The bank, which provides loans, grants and other help to its member countries, has announced plans to set up seven new offices around the region.

Cook Islands, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, Palau, Nauru, Tuvalu and Kiribati will all have an ADB mission by the end of next year according to the ADB's Paul Curry.

The ADB is also beefing up its presence in four other Pacific island countries - Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga and Vanuatu.

Mr Curry, the ADB's Principal Operations Coordination Specialist for the Pacific, said the bank hoped to grow its existing portfolios in the region around transport, energy, water and public financial management.

A regional vaccination programme is also to be approved this year, he said.

"On the education side we've done a lot of work in the north Pacific on enhancing teacher training and curriculum so I think we'll continue to build on those successes and expand where there's a need."

The ADB's portfolio of work in the region had grown to around $US700 million according to Mr Curry.

"When we have ADB staff on the ground it just ensures that we're able to work more closely with the government , with other development partners, to understand the country context and the development challenges the country faces and to work with other donors in a coordinated fashion," he said.

Mr Curry dismissed suggestions the scale-up was to head off other players keen to boost their influence in the increasingly-contested region.

"It's not a reaction to any short-term issue. It's been something that we've been looking at for a long time, at least a year or two under the pilot project and so it's not a reaction to any kind or emerging issue. It's about a long-term commitment that we have to the region."

It had become much more of a challenge for the ADB to remotely manage the substantial infrastructure projects it had in the region and it made sense to be on the ground, Mr Curry said.

Amid concern the region's vulnerable economies are at high risk of debt distress in the push for development, the ADB representative said the bank was "very sensitive" to the question of debt sustainability over the long-run.

"We only provide grants or concessional loans where it's appropriate."

Seven countries, including Tonga, are recipients of ADB assistance which is strictly in the form of grants, he said.

The ADB's overall assistance to the Pacific has doubled every five years since 2005, and now stands at $US2.9 billion.

Total assistance is expected to surpass $US4 billion by 2020.

The new offices will complement regional offices in Fiji and Australia.

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