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By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Mar. 4) – A large Asian Development Bank team is in the Marshall Islands this week to review projects and loans, address roadblocks to development progress and meet with a wide range of people, including local non-governmental organizations and the Majuro Chamber of Commerce.

The eight member team, which includes Indu Bhushan, the head of the Pacific desk at ADB in Manila who is making his first visit here, is also preparing for a retreat in Honolulu early next week that will involve senior ADB, U.S. Interior Department and Marshall Islands officials in discussions on how to develop private sector opportunities in this central Pacific nation.

The ADB team is "examining development issues in detail," said team leader and Marshall Islands desk officer Steve Pollard. "What is the ‘great malaise’ in government and what’s holding back development outcomes?"

The three departments in government that "personify" this malaise are the Attorney General’s Office, the Public Service Commission and the Ministry of Transportation and Communication, Pollard said.

The AG’s office is "holding back improvement of the private sector environment," the PSC is micro-managing government ministries and preventing effective management of the public service, and Transportation has numerous issues related to service to people living on remote outer islands that need resolving, he indicated.

"It’s time to stick our necks out and point out the problems," he said. Addressing roadblocks to development progress is essential for the country, he added.

At the same time, Pollard said that he’s encouraged by several developments in the country, including the government’s commitment to address problems through informal ‘retreats’. "There are problems, but I’m excited by what improvements I expect from government," Pollard said.

There is a need to establish basic processes for information sharing and assessments based on information, he said. "I don’t see internal government dissemination of information for decision-making," he said.

A big focus of the ADB’s program to reduce poverty in member countries is to engage with people in all sectors of the community, particularly giving voice to those who are poor. The aim is to increase participation of citizens in developing appropriate government policies and to make governments themselves more participatory, he said.

The many meetings this week are leading up to the second Marshall Islands ‘retreat’ that will be held in Honolulu next week Monday and Tuesday. This follows on a similar one held last August, which Pollard said was a success.

"Formal roundtable meetings don’t lead to action," he said. The informal retreat is a more productive way to discuss issues and look at solutions to problems, he said.

Cabinet Ministers John Silk and Brenson Wase, chief secretary Robert Muller, bank commissioner Alfred Alfred Jr. and the Ministry of Finance’s international development assistance director Bruce Bilimon will represent the government at the retreat. Jerry Kramer and Francis Reimers, two local businessmen with long-term experience in the private sector, will represent the business community. Pollard and three other ADB officials will attend, while Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary David Cohen will lead a group of three Interior officials to the informal meeting on private sector development.

March 4, 2005

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