In addition to covering the JISPA activities during May-August 2013, this issue also features an interview with Mr. Dorjkhand Togmid, a JISPA alumnus who is currently Director-General of the Department of Financial Policy and Debt Management at the Ministry of Finance of Mongolia. Ms. Sreyleak Mon, from the National Bank of Cambodia, has also contributed an article as a representative among the current scholars.
Here is Mr. Brekk and Mr. Ishii's interview.
1. Please introduce OAP.
Odd Per Brekk: The IMF Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific (OAP) was established in 1997 in Tokyo, Japan, as the IMF’s window to the Asia and the Pacific Region, given the substantial and growing importance of the region in the global economy. Our tasks include contributing to regional surveillance and bilateral surveillance on Japan and Mongolia, participating in regional meetings such as APEC and ASEAN+3, conducting capacity building activities through regional seminars as well as the JISPA, carrying out outreach activities, and facilitating the work of the IMF HQ.
2. Please explain why the IMF is involved in the JISPA and the history of OAP administration of the program.
Shogo Ishii: As Odd Per explained, OAP conducts several capacity building activities as part of the IMF’s capacity building efforts, which constitute one of three pillars of the IMF mandate (the other two pillars are the Fund’s surveillance and lending activities). The Japanese Government and the IMF agree that institutional capacity building in macroeconomic management is very important, and we share the common goal to contribute to the sustainable economic development of the Asia and Pacific region. To achieve this aim, we agreed to provide scholarships to train junior government officials from key economic agencies.
The JISPA was initially administered by the IMF Institute, currently known as the IMF Institute for Capacity Development at headquarters in Washington, D.C. However, given OAP’s establishment in Tokyo and the expansion of the JISPA in AY2001-02, it was decided to transfer administration functions to OAP to facilitate monitoring of the program and coordination with the Japanese universities.
3. Please describe the key features and strengths of the JISPA by having IMF/OAP involved.
Odd Per Brekk: The JISPA program is unique since it narrows its target down to junior officials from key economic agencies who wish to study in macroeconomics and financial related areas in line with the IMF’s mandate. Against such a background, and given the objectives of the program, I believe that the JISPA benefits from IMF/OAP involvement. For example, OAP economists provide input in designing and evaluating the curricula, to make sure that they maintain a macroeconomic-oriented and policy-relevant focus. Furthermore, the JISPA manages to recruit potential candidates from the key economic agencies through the close channels that each IMF Resident Representative has in his/her own country in the region.
4. What is your assessment of the achievements that the JISPA has made so far, in relation to recipient countries, Japan, and the IMF?
Shogo Ishii: I think that the JISPA has achieved a notable level of success. I have noted with great pleasure that many JISPA alumni have now risen up to senior positions and play important roles in policy making. The target agencies appreciate the long lasting support provided by the Government of Japan and the IMF. Some alumni are also working in areas that necessitate coordination and negotiation with Japan. We, at the Fund, have also recognized that many of our counterparts are graduates from the JISPA.
5. Please describe OAP’s involvement in ensuring quality control of the JISPA
Odd Per Brekk: Since we are based in Tokyo, we are involved in day-to-day administration, including close coordination with the universities. OAP staff also visit each university and have several occasions to exchange views with the scholars and to receive their feedback on the course program offered by each partnership university. In addition, we centralize the selection process, with close coordination and consultation with a selection committee which includes faculty members of all the partnership universities. This centralized selection process enables us to select the scholars with the highest potential from the applicants’ pool.
In addition to day-to-day management activities, we have also introduced and established a system to ensure the quality of the university programs. We periodically implement an open bidding process to select the partnership universities. This coming academic year, i.e., in AY2013-14, we are planning to conduct a mid-term review to assess the program of each partnership university as well as our own activities for the JISPA.
The JISPA is one of the major activities that OAP administers. We will continue to work in order to ensure the quality of the program as part of the IMF’s capacity building efforts, with a strong commitment to contribute to economic development in the region and in collaboration with the Japanese government.
6. Please outline the activities that OAP organizes for the JISPA scholars.
Shogo Ishii: In order to foster an identity of “Japan-IMF” scholars, we organize various activities. These activities leverage on the IMF mandate and expertise, and we believe that they compliment the academic education received by the scholars. For example, we regularly organize a series of JISPA seminars with participation of both OAP economist and those who visit Tokyo to talk about topical policy issues in macroeconomic and financial areas. We also invite the JISPA scholars as observers to OAP hosted high-level regional seminars, so that they can be exposed not only to up-to-date policy debates but also to regional fora. In collaboration with the International University of Japan, we arrange the Orientation Program for incoming scholars, which aims to refresh their skills in mathematics and academic English. It also provides some basic Japanese language and culture courses which should help JISPA scholars enjoy their stay in Japan.
I have attended those activities myself, and I was always amazed by the scholars’ enthusiasm and motivation for their studies, shown by active discussion sessions during the seminars as well as during their meetings with us.
7. You were appointed as OAP’s Director for three years, and were heavily involved in the JISPA administration and activities. Please share with us some experiences that impressed you.
Shogo Ishii: I very much enjoyed working on the JISPA administration and activities, especially interacting with JISPA scholars and alumni. During my campus visits, I was very pleased that partnership university faculty members highly praised JISPA scholars for high levels of academic achievements and motivation. When I visited Myanmar last fall as part of JISPA promotion, I happened to witnessed that a number of JISPA alumni were engaged in economic adjustment program negotiations with the IMF mission, realizing the JISPA’s significant contribution to developing countries’ economic development.
8. You assumed the OAP’s Director in July 2013. How would you like to move the JISPA forward? Or, what do you envisage as the direction of the JISPA?
Odd Per Brekk: The JISPA has already had a positive impact on the region, on Japan, and on the IMF in several ways. We at OAP continue to be committed to the administration of the program. In particular, we will continue to monitor and ensure the effectiveness of the curricula offered by the partnership universities. The curricula need to equip JISPA scholars with sophisticated knowledge and skills enabling them to tackle complicating policy challenges in the macroeconomic and financial areas that they will face in the future.
Moreover, OAP as the IMF’s window to Asia, we would like to positively utilize an extensive network of JISPA alumni among officials in key economic agencies when we conduct our activities, such as participating in regional fora and organizing regional seminars. We strongly believe that the JISPA program can foster better macroeconomic management and international policy cooperation, thus benefitting not only the scholars’ home countries, but also Japan, the region, and the global economy.
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