Colombo Plan Book
Colombo Plan Book

2001 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Colombo Plan and to mark the occasion, the Australia Malaysia Cultural Foundation (AMF) published a book with a particular focus on Malaysians who studies in Australia under the Colombo Plan from 1951 to 1979. Since 1951, some 200,000 Malaysians have received their university education in Australia and this book celebrates a people to people relationship that has developed over the last 50 years. The book was launched in late November 2001 in Adelaide which coincides with the official launching of the AMF and it contains interviews with 12 Malaysians and the stories of some 75 others all of whom studied in Australia and contributed to the development of Malaysia in a myriad of ways. In addition to the stories, photographs from then and now plus the speeches given at the Colombo Plan Anniversary Reunion held in Kuala Lumpur on July 1, 2000 were also included.

What was the Colombo Plan?
The Colombo Plan was a plan for Cooperative Economic Development of South and South East Asia and was conceived at a meeting of Commonwealth Foreign Ministers held in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in January 1950. The people who conceived the plan included Mr PC Spender (later Sir Percy), Australia, Mr LB Pearson, Canada, Mr DS Senanayake, Ceylon, Shri Jawaharlal Nehru, India, Mr D Doidge, New Zealand, Mr Ghulam Mohammad, Pakistan and Mr Ernest Bevin of the United Kingdom.

Originally, membership of the plan which was voluntary, covered Commonwealth countries but was later extended to include all the countries of South and South East Asia, the United States of America and Japan and the initial period of the plan was from 1 July 1951 until 1 July 1957.

Member countries in South and South East Asia included Myanmar (Burma), Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, India, Indonesia, Laos, Nepal, Pakistan, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Members from outside the region were Australia, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.

In essence, the plan was the sum of the national plans of the countries of South and South East Asia and the assistance received by the countries in the area from the member countries represented international cooperation embodied by the plan.

Assistance under the plan was given on the request of the Government of the country seeking the assistance and no assistance was provided unless specifically asked for. All aid was given on a bi-lateral basis and the negotiations were conducted between the donor and the receiving government. No conditions or strings were attached to any aid provided and there was no expectation of a return by the donor country.

The Plan had no central administrative authority - national plans were administered by the governments of the respective countries and any assistance rendered by a donor country was administered jointly by the donor and the receiving country under a mutually agreed procedure.

Deliberations on economic and other related problems in the region and the ways for dealing with those problems were arranged through the Colombo Plan Consultative Committee, which met annually. The Committee composed of Member Governments of the Plan, represented by Ministers.

The main forms of assistance were grants and loans for national development projects; commodities including grain, fertilizers, consumer goods; specialised equipment including machinery, farm equipment, transport vehicles, laboratory equipment; services of experts and technicians; training in advanced technology to the students of the countries of the region.

The areas to which assistance was provided covered all fields of socio-economic development and some of the more specific fields where assistance was provided included:

  • Scientific Development of Agriculture Reclamation of Waste Land and Land Management Irrigation and Power projects
  • Pest Control and Disease Control in Plants
  • Animal Husbandry Services
  • Fisheries Development Basic industries such as iron, steel, fertilizers
  • Small Scale and Village Industries
  • Railway Rehabilitation and Expansion Development of Ports and Harbours
  • National Highways and Roads
  • Disease Prevention and Protection
  • Environmental Sanitation Control of Malaria and Tuberculosis
  • Nutrition Community Development Training of students in donor countries

The direct effect of the Colombo Plan in South and South East Asia was to stimulate national effort in recipient countries. By providing assistance to vital sectors of countries’ economies in the areas most needed, the Plan allowed Governments to speed up the implementation of their national plans.

The operation of these national plans supported by assistance from the Colombo Plan resulted in significant progress within the region evidenced by growth in national incomes, increased food production, increased production of cash crops such as cotton, rubber and tea and a shift to an industrial bias from a traditional, agricultural one in the recipient countries' economies.

The natural resources of countries began to be exploited in a more scientific and efficient way, rivers were dammed to provide reliable supplies of water and power, organised programmes against disease were implemented and education received a considerable boost with many more children attending schools.

Further Information
Funding for the Colombo Plan Book project has been generously provided by the Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs in Canberra and assistance has also been provided by the Australian High Commission and Australian Education International in Kuala Lumpur.