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Thursday, Feb. 21, 2002


Chino cements image as ADB's best chief ever

Special to The Japan Times

MANILA It was the most important night of the year. As "Show 2001" got off to a start, the hall was packed to standing room only, and talented employees -- mostly Filipinos -- strutted their stuff in aid of local charities.

News photo
Asian Development Bank President Tadao Chino has given the regional institution a new sense of importance.

It's show time. But where's the big boss? Up in his office, of course, working. No wonder: the cares of almost half of the world rests on his shoulders and it was a time of recession. As a foreigner, he could not be expected to take time off from his onerous official workload, not even for a good cause.

But then, to everyone's surprise, the boss appears. Still dressed in his dark business suit, he was invited to the microphone. Immediately he launched into a popular Philippine ballad, showing off such baritone artistry and authority that soon the whole audience was on its feet, applauding and cheering.

"I don't know when he found the time to rehearse," said one of those in the audience, "but he was the star turn of the evening. It was not just the gesture that the president had turned up and sang, but that he did it so well. Filipinos appreciate good singing, so they know.

After the performance, big boss Tadao Chino, president of the Asian Development Bank -- the self-proclaimed "bank for half the world" -- further cemented his reputation as the best president in the memory of most of the staff.

Rare qualities

Here was someone whom they had come to respect as competent and authoritative, but who also displayed that rarest of qualities of being one of the regular staff and able to share their special moments. By his personality and performance, Chino has given a new sense of importance to the ADB, which covers the immense territory from Afghanistan and Central Asia in the west through India, China and Japan and down to the tiny island territories of the South Pacific.

The bank's member states embrace more than half the world's population, and have more than their share of its development problems.

Chino took over in 1999 at a difficult time, with doubts about the virtues of economic liberalization and globalization being pursued aggressively by critics of international development. More to the point, the bank had had a succession of presidents who failed, for various reasons not always of their own making, to link the bank with the real world.

Since its foundation back in 1966 the ADB has always had a Japanese president, just as the World Bank has had an American and the International Monetary Fund a European head.

But unlike the other big multilateral bodies, where there has generally been public debate over executive appointments -- favored candidates for the leadership of the IMF have been rejected after public discussion -- the appointment of the president of the ADB has been treated as a prerogative of the Japanese Finance Ministry, which appoints the president without any public debate.

Masao Fujioka, president from 1981 to 1989 won a reputation as "The Shogun" of the bank because of his arrogance and very un-Japanese autocratic ways. ADB staff who are still with the bank say he was both unpopular and feared. Even today they prefer to speak of him in whispers because he is head of the association of former staff.

He was followed by Kimimasa Taramizu, who was in office for four years and almost universally liked as a "nice" person who lacked a strong grip on the bank and who was bedeviled by poor health.

Taramizu's successor was Mitsuo Sato, an intelligent but cerebral figure who was a poor communicator and thus could not offer the leadership that the bank needed.

Chino is a small man, but his broad smile and firm handshake immediately indicate a strong character. He is also within the careful Japanese bureaucratic mainstream where building consensus is important. That is probably why he has endeared himself to his staff.

Art of persuasion

As vice minister for international affairs, the ministry of finance's top diplomat, he also learned that the art of diplomacy is gentle persuasion, not outspokenness. This makes him a good negotiator, but shy about revealing new departures and the plans of the bank.

As one glaring example, ADB staff are increasingly concerned whether they have enough resources to tackle the immense demands of the region, from the poverty of the Indian subcontinent in the west to the challenges of the minnow Pacific countries with populations hardly larger than a small town of Japan.

As if this is not enough, now there are the extra problems of rebuilding Afghanistan, and supporting a fragile Pakistan. It must face these demands with capital of about $45 billion, half that of the Inter-American Development Bank.

Getting a capital increase, staff say, is the top task. So, Chino put this at the top of his list on his new year visit home to Japan and other trips round the world. The president puts on the eternal faceless bureaucrat's expression and says that a study of the financing needs of the bank is under way and expresses confidence that with discussion the issue will be sorted out.

What about the stinginess of the richer developing countries in contributing to the bank's soft loan funds? Countries that benefited from the banks' loans when they were poor could surely do more to aid their Asian neighbors struggling out of poverty.

Chino responds that he is "grateful" that new countries have chosen to contribute. Similarly, asked about the damage that might be done by Japan's cutbacks in official development assistance, he blandly says, "I am grateful for the continued strong assistance from Japan and other countries."

The closest he comes to a rebuke is a gentle reminder to his former colleagues in Tokyo, "I understand the economic and fiscal situations of the donors, but these financial resources that have been made available to the ADB have been used most effectively in reducing poverty of Asian countries, where two-thirds of the world's poor live.

"Assisting poor people is not only good from a humanistic point of view and preserving their dignity, which is very important, but it is also important because poverty reduction will make the region more prosperous and give economic benefits to the rest of the world, not only Japan and Asia."

Cautious response

Several times he prefers to read answers from prepared notes rather than to risk a spontaneous response, though he is actually more fluent and convincing when he is speaking unrehearsed, rather than from a document.

Most annoyingly, when I asked how his experience at the bank had changed him, he thought for a moment, then asked an aide to get him his speeches at the annual meetings of the bank in Chiang Mai in 2000 and Honolulu in 2001.

But this trait also shows that there is actually a very warm human being trying to break out from that formal, smartly suited frame.

Finally, he said of his visit to the slums of Bangladesh, "What struck me most was not the poverty, but the richness of their culture and their dignity and hope. The ADB-assisted slum improvement program has changed the Malshapara slum of Sirajgonj into an attractive village. . . .

"Primary health care, a skills development program and income-generating activities have empowered women and strengthened their self-confidence. At the villagers' meeting, I was welcomed by lovely children in brand new beautiful clothes, which had been handmade by their mothers using tailoring skills acquired under the skills development program. These children sang for us 'We Shall Overcome.'

"The mothers' faces were shining, the children's faces were shining, with dignity ad hope. I found myself singing together with the children."

The "Chino bank," he says, has to stand and fight for the defeat of poverty. It may not seem a particularly original ambition -- after all the poor have always been with us and no doubt always will be -- but in the first 40 years of its existence the bank devoted much of its money to big infrastructure projects that would ensure a solid economic base.

To show that he means business, Chino has conducted a top-to-bottom review of the bank. He stresses that the review was highly participatory, involving management and staff and all the stakeholders in the bank.

The result has been a bank that is more focused on individual countries, recognizing that different cultures, language and even religion may change the economic outlook.

A diversified region

"Asia is not like Europe," says Chino. "Asia's most important characteristic is diversity. The political setup differs. Languages are very much diverse. The levels of development are very wide, ranging from about $200 a year (in Cambodia and Laos) to $30,000 (in Hong Kong and Singapore)."

Chino says that he has got used to life in Manila to such an extent that he went back to Japan, caught a bad cold, "but in a few days in warm Manila, I soon recovered. I like this warm and humid climate. I like the warm hearts of the Filipino people."

And no doubt, he welcomes the opportunity to sing? On this point, he is his modest self. "Basically, I enjoy listening to other people sing, but when it is important, I will sing."

An aide whispers that Chino is being too self-deprecating: "If you go to dinner with him, you will be expected to sing, and you should know that he is good, very good."

The president explains the importance of singing, "There is no necessity for interpreter. There are no borders. Singing is a universal language."

Kevin Rafferty is Hong Kong editor for Euromoney magazine.

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The Japan Times

Article 16 of 16 in Business news


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