Written by Mekong Institute
The follow-up policy dialogue on GMS economic corridors intended to promote a better understanding of the progress and impacts of transport corridors and to develop understanding of the progress and impacts of transport corridors and to develop concrete action plans to advance comprehensive, inter-disciplinary policy regulatory reforms. The meeting was organized by teh Mekong Institute in Khon Kaen, Thailand on 14-16 June 2007.
Day One heard the presentations of research reports on the understanding and perceptions of local communities and institutions regarding the meetings and impacts of economic corridors. Day two discussed and prioritized the risks and social impacts of economic corridors. Day Two discussed and prioritized the risks and social impacts as well presented reports on social action policies and plans of selected GMS countries. The synthesis offered suggestions on research concepts and methodologies to generate sound solid data that wil instruct policy formulaton. Day Three examined national social action policies and implementation plans. Based on report presentations and discussions, the final synthesis raised issues of accountabilities and responsibilities for impact mitigation and refelctions on development accounting, the calculus of meanings and the calculus of pain.
Contested Meaning of Economic Corridors
Local people received the expansion of roads and highways but did not relate this to economic growth. Private business viewed the possibility of commercialization of local products but with did not see much of the trade exchange possibilities among GMS countries. Local institutions expected that economic corridors-related policies will continue to support their mandates.
Economic corridors brought some degree of economic opportunities for the local people and helped improve economic activities in the GMS countries. Social problems such as communicable diseases, prostitution, human trafficking, drugs and wildlife smuggling commonly occured as peoples crossed borders to engage n border trade and migrant work. The displacement and livelihood changes as well as degree of cultural permutations. Absent or weak land use policies caused land disputes and unregulated land values along the corridors.
Comprehensive and integrated strategic policies are neccessary to regulate the social problems that are emerging from economic corridors development, such as those on migration, border trade, health, awareness and skills development, land and livelihoods support, cultures and traditions. The types and degrees of impacts vary from country to country, requiring differentiated strategies to deal wth tensions occurring in several areas and levels. The range of impacts and the uneven capacities and resources of GMS governments necessitate the prioritizaton of impacts and risks to address.
Policy inputs can be put in a sharper context if equal impartance is placed on transparent and democratic development processes. Thus far, the locus of attention has mainly been on potentials and results.The timiing, breadth and depth of participation have to be considered. The levels of democratic space as well as the capacities of responsible parties and governments for leading a transparent and participatory planning process are vital. GMS governments and donors are challenged to review te entirety of planning and implementaton, wth due regard to the processes and the partcipation of local communities.
Knowledge stands at the base of policy and action. The diverse activities, comparaive advantages as well as socal vulnerabilities in these corrdors should be recognized in order to maximize the benefits from these corridors. Micro-level case studies representing macro-realities, such as those in border communities, should be able to stand scrutiny, immeidate and time-bound. These can be used to generate lessons and enhance learning exchanges.
Infrastructure projects comprise a hefty chunk in the economic corridors development budgets, loaned by national governemnts from development banks. Social mitigation has a very minimal share. Creating an enabling environment and research are not provided in the loan. GMS countries should share experiences to strenthen negotiation platforms with donors. Collaborative action and regional cooperation can lead to much improved, comprehensive and holistic policies.
Where do we go from here
Interest groups can manipulate meanings and perceptions on economic corrdors. Therefore, how do we encourage and appropriate alternatve meanings Change is inevitable but it has to be a well managed process, to the extent possible causing little or no adverse effects on anyone. Development practitioners, whether in the public sector or as part of civil society, must call for greater accountability from our governments and donors, be constantly alert and updated with emerging deelopments through research and learning exchanges, continuously critique and monitor and GMS corridors development planning and implementation processes.