Colombo Plan—Provision of Technical Equipment
I wish to acknowledge your memorandum No. 390 of 12th September (your file 2011/1)1 which reached us on 28th September.
2. The suggestion that we should try to do more in arranging the supply of equipment under our Technical Co-operation Programme seems a good one. At the same time we are not sure of the number and kind of requests that have been received from a number of ministries and institutions in India, Pakistan and Ceylon.
3. The majority of these requests would appear to have come from the two former since our only recollection of supplies requested under the Programme come to one CSIRO film on fisheries worth perhaps �10, and requests for a number of books and training equipment forwarded under cover of our memoranda No. 460 of 25th July2 and No. 493 of 6th August, 1951.3
4. The first of these related to a list sent out from Australia as a result of discussions held by Mr. A. J. A. Nelson4 while in Ceylon in the previous year and the second to equipment brought with him by Mr. G. S. McDonald5 part of whose mission to the area was, we understand, to demonstrate the sort of material available in Australia in which Ceylon might be interested. As well a request has been made for a boat and gear to demonstrate a particular fishing method but this in turn arises from our own indication earlier of our willingness to spend some money on the fishing industry in Ceylon. To sum up then as far as Ceylon is concerned we would not feel that their requests for equipment have been sporadic or unco-ordinated since the impetus came mainly from ourselves. However, if they were to develop further on the lines of Ceylon's present applications for experts and training it seems highly probable that exactly that criticism would be justified.
5. The difficulty in regard to Ceylon is that it has no suitable inter-departmental committee and just at present the stage of their governmental planning to deal with wider issues than Technical Assistance is such that it seems hard to see quite how one could be set up which could prepare 'an authoritative and comprehensive request list, showing priorities to be accorded to the component items'. In one respect it was hoped that Ceylon would be able to make some progress in its machinery for overall planning. There is at the moment in the island an advisory mission from the World Bank here at the request of the Ceylon Government. It is hoped that as a result of its report attention will be drawn to possibilities of action in this direction and that out of their deliberations some positive recommendations may come which have a likelihood of being acted upon.
6. An alternative which I think might be more easily manageable would be for us to take up particular projects or institutions in the countries concerned and make them our especial responsibility as regards equipment. Even this in the case of a project which is to have any significant effect upon the rate of economic development will be a difficult and expensive matter. Might it not be better to take the matter up as a Council responsibility and ask each of the Commonwealth countries to join in making the most of particular projects selected on expert advice as suitable for development in each country? The Thai project6 in Pakistan would seem to be one such and no doubt others would be uncovered.
7. The final paragraph of your memorandum refers to the way in which the Bureau for Technical Co-operation might be able to help the programme forward. The Bureau, of course, consists of one man, Mr. Geoffrey Wilson, and a secretarial staff. I am not sure that he might reasonably be expected to assist recipient countries in framing request lists, at least in any detail, because of the volume and detail of the work that would be involved. He could of course report generally to Governments on the effectiveness of the programme as it develops, suggest means whereby its value might be increased. This would especially be the case if in fact Council decided to undertake as its joint responsibility the establishment and equipment of particular enterprises. This, however, would seem to require machinery greater than the Bureau musters at present.
8. It would seem necessary in the case of India and Pakistan to have a small local committee of countries represented on the Council meeting in New Delhi and Karachi and assisted by expert advice where necessary, which could keep more closely in touch than Mr. Wilson would be able to with the co-ordination between Governments and the Council in regard to the undertakings selected. The project approach would seem in the long run much more profitable and to have greater measure of concrete achievement than the alternative which we wish to avoid of dissipating our efforts over too wide a field.
9. I refer also to your notes on procedure attached to your memorandum under reference. The suggestion that technical experts should be attached say to this mission at Colombo to examine requests for technical equipment would relieve the Bureau of what I think is the near impossibility of a detailed check of this kind, but if a person were to be stationed here on a full-time basis he would need to do a great deal of travelling naturally to other posts in the area and he would need to possess an all-round acquaintance with the Australian supply position which one man might not have. It might be better to send out regularly experts in particular fields or even experts to particular projects in one country only. If a joint approach were made to these he could form part of a survey mission accompanying similar experts from say Canada, United Kingdom and New Zealand. We are not quite sure how far a special goodwill mission for the equipment side would be justified at this stage. A little time for preparing the ground and for distinguishing fields most suitable for development might be necessary before a mission comes up from Australia. I am not quite sure how far a distinction need be observed between our technical aid grants to India, Pakistan and Ceylon and the smaller amounts we are making available under the Technical Assistance Programme, but a procedure considered suitable for one could presumably be extended to the other.
10. I would be very glad to have your comments on any of the suggestions made on the subject matter of your memorandum. We could, if necessary, take it up at a Policy Session of the Council provided each Government were suitably advised of our views before the meeting assembled.
[NAA: A462, 587/7 part 1]