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201 Dispatch from Borthwick to Casey

Colombo, 19 October 1951

Council for Technical Co-operation

As mentioned in my cable No. 2761 of today's date I have the honour to advise that this body's agenda for next week's meeting, a copy of which is forwarded in this mail, includes an item dealing with the preparation of a report from the Council to the Consultative Committee on its work until now. This has been initiated by the memorandum I enclose from its President, Mr. R. Coomaraswamy, to the Director of the Bureau (D/70).2

2. It seems to this Office that we should take this opportunity to make the Council's report something more than similar productions have been in the past, which means to make it something more than a statistical abstract,� an account of difficulties in obtaining experts, and a reiteration of all the administrative minutiae which complicate the work of the Bureau and of all Governments supplying or receiving technical assistance. It ought be possible to go on from the assembly of this sort of information to drawing up a balance sheet of what has actually been done in the direction of economic development, and to review our methods and the history of the Council's work to see in what directions improvement is possible, what undertakings are less useful than at first appeared, and whether the time has not come to frame a list of priorities in our attack on the development problems.

3. As far as general principles are concerned we ought to be able to see that it includes a statement of the need for each Government to organize on a national basis its contribution to technical co-operation and its machinery for initiating requests, along the lines mentioned in the Department's memorandum No. 3903 of 12th September concerning technical equipment. Such an organisation would also help in the co-ordination so obviously necessary with the work of the specialised agencies. Furthermore the Asian countries represented have not so far contributed as much as one might have hoped to turning the Council into a very positive or purposeful instrument. We handle an increasing miscellany of unrelated requests and while it may be true that over a period this approach may be the most useful and its cumulative effect important, there has never been any examination of our present methods which would establish whether this is really so or whether the same time, funds and energy would not produce better results if focussed on a series of more limited objectives. Nor is there very much co-ordination between one supplying country and another, or even in the case of receiving countries between their requests for experts and their requests for training facilities.

4. There seems no need in any such review to disturb Asian susceptibilities by lining up all the receiving countries to hear an account of what we believe to be their shortcomings, when a critical self-examination might well establish that supplying countries too could do more than they are doing at present to streamline their organization and to submit to any marked sacrifice or inconvenience called for by the contribution of a particular person or item of equipment to the scheme. Where details are involved a statistical account of the Council's work can be misleading, unless these are related to some discernible advantage to the receiving .countries even on a long-term basis. It suffers too from the short-coming that on figures a six weeks' tour by some informed person is equated with the possibilities inherent in the services of some other man with managerial ability for a period of years. It has so far been much easier to arrange the former but successes in this direction cannot be compared with a need which is felt and so far not satisfied for the measure of assistance represented by the latter.

5. An importance which is to some extent disproportionate is given too to any tabulation of fellowships and scholarships awarded persons in the area for overseas study and travel. While so far these have avoided a suggestion of joy-riding an analysis of them would seem to show that we are not so far successful in providing training opportunities for senior and qualified persons who can train others on their return, or exert an appreciable influence on a sector of administration. We seem rather to be providing opportunities valuable in themselves but less immediately productive for the primary or post-graduate training of junior officers whose influence will only be felt much later. This sort of training seems to promise some hope for building up of technological but not managerial skills. We would not suggest that for this reason our fellowship and scholarship programme should be modified or discarded, but rather that since that sector of development seems adequately taken care of by present arrangements we should go on to consider what can be done to cover the other field indicated. Experience seems to show that it is difficult to train a person to take charge of a project, in another country with problems inevitably different, and the alternative seems to be to adopt a project, factory or installation, with a manager supplied by the Council and required to train a local subordinate who can take over from him in the foreseeable future. We have not until now been able to achieve anything of the kind but it seems too soon to say that we never can unless the possibility is more vigorously canvassed than it has been until now.

6. Although there is no sign that requests for them will cease public opinion in Ceylon at least, and perhaps Government opinion too, is becoming increasingly sceptical of the advantages to be gained from short-term visits of experts. It seems in some cases right that this should be so because such visits are only useful if they are followed by something more than a written report. Recipient Governments might be asked for an account of the action taken to follow up such reports, or if action by supplying countries is called for this should be undertaken as early as possible so that the relation between the recommendation and its result will be immediately apparent. An example for instance comes to mind from the visit of Mr. A. J. A. Nelson of our Office of Education to Colombo in July and August of last year. He suggested to the Ceylon Ministry of Education that we might be able to contribute some equipment, the first samples of which arrived in May, 1951. The Ministry made its choice from some of these in July and it may well be that no material will reach us before early 1952. The reasons for such delay are many and various, and perhaps similar instances can be multiplied elsewhere in the Council's experience, but as the scheme enters a new year it seems hard to believe that no improvement is possible. Results cannot, of course, be expected in forty-eight hours but some might reasonably be looked for in three months from the time of filing a request, particularly since with the experience we have acquired time need not be wasted on enquiries in directions known to be unpromising.

7. Not very much initiative can be expected from the Council since it consists of persons appointed in their representative and not in their personal capacity. Thinking about this question and recommendations for inclusion in a report to the Consultative Committee need to be undertaken at the central Government level. A certain initiative can reasonably be expected of the Director, who is recruited to a responsible and relatively remunerative position on the basis of especial abilities. However Mr. Wilson will not be able to do very much more than originate proposals for the attention of Governments and they will only be workable on any scale if assured of Governmental support. This raises larger issues such as our relative contribution to the needs of re-armament and of economic development which will presumably be considered by the Consultative Committee, but room remains in the more limited field of technical assistance for recommendations which Australia might support or initiate. We will keep in touch with any views put forward by the Director himself and would be glad to learn what comments generally the Department wishes made on the present suggestions regarding the Council's report. Our original identification with the Colombo Plan makes it important that Australia's share in its execution, and in that portion represented by the Council for Technical Co-operation, should remain an active and constructive one based upon popular support for and understanding of it.

[NAA: A1838, 160/11/1/1 part 1]

1 The cablegram stated that the Council for Technical Cooperation meeting was fixed for 26 October 1951 and requested comments on the agenda.

2 See Document 200

3 Not found.

Last Updated: 10 January 2017

Category: International relations

Topic: History