The Colombo Plan – Its origin and significance | Daily News

The Colombo Plan – Its origin and significance

68th anniversary falls Today
1950: The Founding Fathers of the Colombo Plan.
1950: The Founding Fathers of the Colombo Plan.

The origin of the Colombo Plan dates back to the Commonwealth Foreign Ministers’ Conference held in Colombo on January 9, 1950. Sri Lanka’s (then Ceylon) ministerial delegation to the conference was composed of D. S. Senanayake, Prime Minister, J. R. Jayewardene, Minister of Finance, Dr. Lalith Rajapakse, Minister of Justice and R. G. Senanayake, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of External Affairs.

Jayawardene, at this conference, came out with the proposal that a committee be set up to prepare a 10-year plan for the development of the countries in South-east Asia through international collaboration. Jayewardene’s proposal incidentally, had the same features as that put up by the Australian delegation led by Sir Percy Spender. Thus credit for the formulation of the Colombo Plan concept should as such go to President J. R. Jayewardene and Sir Percy Spender, the Australian Foreign Minister.

The draft resolution tabled by Jayewardene read: “To ensure a high and stable level of employment and to raise the standard of living of underdeveloped countries in South-east Asia, whether within the Commonwealth or outside it, it is necessary to develop their agricultural and industrial economics.”

“This conference, therefore, agrees to appoint a committee of officials of the countries concerned to obtain information and to prepare a ten-year plan for the development of these countries. The other members of the Commonwealth should consider means of providing such assistance as may be necessary for the implementation of this plan with money, guaranteed prices, technical skill and machinery”.

“The plan should be examined by a committee of experts who after visiting the countries concerned shall make recommendations with regard to the help which the Commonwealth countries can give in carrying out this programme”.

It is apparent that Jayewardene’s proposal had been motivated by a sincere desire to improve the lot of the peoples of the South-east Asian countries as the living standards in those countries at the time, were very low. For instance the average income per head, when we were granted Independence in 1948 was about Rs. 20 and life expectancy was around 50 years.

The conference after discussing the resolution tabled by Sri Lanka and Australia agreed to recommend to the respective governments about means to promote economic development in South-east Asia.

The resolution in effect gave vent to the situation prevailing in South-east Asian countries at the time and the desire to eliminate poverty and improve living standards through international co-operation and collaboration. It was adopted at the conference thereby preparing the stage for the launching of the Colombo Plan.

The leaders who attended the Foreign Ministers’ conference in Colombo and who conceived the Colombo Plan concept could, therefore, be rightly called its founding fathers. They were D. S. Senanayake, J. R. Jayewardene, Dr. Lalith Rajapakse and R. G. Senanayake (Sri Lanka), Sir Percy Spender (Australia), Shri. Jawaharlal Nehru (India), Frederick Diodge (New Zealand), Lester Person, R. R. Mayhew (Canada), Ernest Bevin, Philip Noel-Baker (Great Britain) and Paul Sauer (South Africa).

In furtherance of the resolution adopted at the Colombo conference, the first meeting of the Consultative Committee was held in Sydney commencing May 10, 1950, as convened by the Australian government.

The preparation of a National Development Plan by each country determining the priority of projects and starting the amount of assistance needed for them, the setting up a Commonwealth Technical Assistance Scheme to provide assistance to a maximum value of 8 million staggered over a period of three years commencing July 1,1950, with Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand and Canada contributing 80% of the amount, and the establishment f a Bureau in Colombo to implement the Technical Assistance Programme, were the more important decisions taken at the Sydney meeting, which recommendations were to be put up to the respective governments for approval. The task of coordinating the preparation of the development plan, whilst seeking the co-operation of non-Commonwealth countries in Asia was entrusted to the Australian government which work was completed by the time the London conference commenced on September 25, 1950.

Two reports prepared by officials in advance, one on economic development in South and South-east Asia and the other on the technical assistance scheme, were discussed at the London Conference. On agreement being reached the report titled “The Colombo Plan for Co-operative Economic Development in South and South-east Asia” was adopted unanimously, which once again, was to be considered by the individual governments in the Commonwealth.

Establishment of C Plan

On all governments agreeing, the Colombo Plan was launched on July 1, 1951 as a regional inter-governmental organisation aimed at Cooperative Economic Development in the countries of South and South-east Asia.

The Colombo Plan embodies the concept of a collective international effort towards the economic and social development of member countries in the Asia Pacific region. It provides for a forum for discussion of the development needs of member countries and for the exchange of information, and acts as a catalyst for information on new ideas or existing concepts which need further encouragement and support. It is significant that all decisions are by consensus among the member countries. In fact, the principles underlying the operation of the Colombo Plan are amply demonstrated by its motto “Planning Prosperity Together”.

It is to the credit of this body, that it has pioneered the networking of international and regional organisations with a view to ensure that their combined resources are put to effective use in the region, and are shared, to meet the needs of the member countries.

Technical co-operation among developing member countries, a feature once again pioneered by the Colombo Plan, has been substantial and resulted in the transfer of expertise in different fields and discipline. The developed member countries have also contributed their share in a larger measure where technical assistance is concerned.

The Population Programme, the Drug Advisory Programme, and the Technical Development Projects initiated under the auspices of the Colombo Plan in the past, have helped the developing countries in the South and South-east Asia region, in their development effort, especially in the fields of Agriculture, Industrial Research, Power, Irrigation, Rural Development, Water Management, Health, Education, Science and Technology.

However, the assistance flowing through the Colombo Plan has been on the decrease as a result of bilateralism of international aid and the surfacing of specialized international agencies. That situation led to the reorientation of the activities of the Colombo Plan. As at present the Colombo Plan concentrates only on permanent and regular training programmes that are relevant to developing member countries and programmes formulated on a project-by-project basis that meets the development needs of the member countries in the area of social and economic development, the current programmes being:

* Programme for public administration to train public servants in public administration to meet the changing needs of a market-oriented economy.

* Programme for private sector development focusing on small and medium enterprises and entrepreneurship development. That involves skill development of managers especially in the areas of business management.

* Drug Advisory Programme aimed at eliminating drug abuse covering both demand and supply reduction.

* South-South Technical Cooperation / Data Bank to collect and disseminate information on activities of public and private sectors of member countries.

* Development of special projects that are of importance to member countries.

* A Staff College for Technical Education based in Manila, Philippines, functions as a specialized agency of the Colombo Plan where training needs are met.

The functioning of Colombo Plan

The Consultative Committee

The Consultative Committee which consists all member countries is the policy-making body and meets every two years. The Consultative committee whilst reviewing the activities of the Colombo Plan decides on development issues in the region and technical cooperation programmes.

Colombo Plan Council

The Colombo Plan Council, which also consists of all member countries, meets in Colombo several times a year. The heads of the Diplomatic Missions in Colombo represent their countries at the Council meetings. The Council identifies the necessary development issues and recommends measures to be taken to the Consultative Committee and follows up the implementation of the Consultative Committee decisions and directives.

Colombo Plan Secretariat

The Colombo Plan Secretariat, headed by the Secretary-General, provides the administrative support for the implementation of the programmes decided by the Consultative Committee and assists the Colombo Plan Council in discharging its functions.

The Secretary-General is in charge of all administrative and financial matters on which he has to report to the Council. Phan Kieu Thu is the present Secretary General.

Member countries

The Colombo Plan launched by seven Commonwealth countries Australia, Canada, Great Britain, India, New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) in 1951 after 68 years of existence, has now a membership of 27 countries, as aid givers and aid receivers, and is no more a Commonwealth Organization. Two of the original nations, Canada and Great Britain, withdraw from the Colombo Plan in 1991, whilst South Africa earlier lost membership on leaving the Commonwealth. The present members of the Colombo Plan are: Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Iran, Japan, Republic of Korea, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, United States of America and Vietnam.

The Colombo Plan, no doubt, has made a significant contribution towards the economic and social development of the Asia Pacific Region and it has a role to play in the future too enhancing the prosperity of the people of the region.

(The writer is a former President, Colombo Plan International Society) 

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