We are pleased to publish interview with Debabrata Majumdar (Chemical 1977). He is currently working as Public Procurement Advisor (World Bank Advisor) to the Ministry of Health, Royal Government of Cambodia.
He, along with other Indian Officials met with President of India, Shrimati Pratibha Patil on Sept. 13, 2010 during her official visit to Cambodia. He discussed with her about World Bank assisted Healthcare Projects in Cambodia. The meeting took place at Phnom Penh, which is the capital of Cambodia.
Yogesh Upadhyaya talked with Debabrata Majumdar about his interesting career.
(Deb Mazumdar in group photo with H.E. Mrs Pratibha Patil, President of India. He is in back row, 2nd from right (without suit)
Q-1: How was the meeting organized with President of India?
Meeting with President of India was organized by the Indian Embassy (through Rajeev Sachdeva - Indian Ambassador to Cambodia – seated extreme left) on 13th September 2010. It was organized at the specific request of the President who wanted to have a first-hand interaction with some Indian nationals who were contributing towards Cambodia's development.
Q-2: What was discussed during the meeting with President?
During the interactions the President generally asked us as to how India could help Cambodia and in what specific areas? As I am involved as a World Bank Advisor in the Cambodian Health Sector, she specifically asked me as to what role India could play to assist the Cambodian Health Sector. I replied that there was a great need for upgrading the existing public health infrastructure in Cambodia as all institutions had been systematically destroyed during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975 to 1979) and all qualified health sector personnel (along with qualified personnel of other sectors as well) had either fled the country or had perished (reports indicate that around 2 million people, the entire educated professional class, perished during that period - out of a population of around 7 to 8 million at that time). Therefore, along with physical infrastructure, there was also a great need for trained human resources for managing the public health system in Cambodia. It was also observed that most Cambodians (who can afford it) go to Vietnam or Thailand (both countries can be accessed through land borders at low transport costs) for even simple medical treatment.
This is where India can play an important role. Since India is an established destination for medical tourism, there is no reason why the low cost high quality health services model cannot be implemented in Cambodia? This is an area where a real and lasting impact can be made by India and something which the average Cambodian population will really appreciate. However, as I told the President, it was important that such health services were priced at appropriate levels suitable for Cambodia (similar price levels as in India) otherwise it would not succeed as people would still go across to Vietnam and Thailand where acceptable levels of health services were available for ordinary people.
Q-3: What is your role as a World Bank Advisor?
As far as my role is concerned, I am currently assigned as a World Bank Advisor (Procurement and Contracts Management) to the Royal Government of Cambodia. I have held similar positions in different countries including Kenya, Uganda, Turkey, Georgia and India (with Government of Maharashtra for the World Bank Primary Education Project which is now known as Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan). In my capacity as WBA (Procurement and Contracts Management), I am required to advise government ministries on proper application and management of World Bank project management, procurement and tendering procedures for all goods, works and services required to be acquired under World Bank funded programs. This is to ensure that governments spend public money for goods/works/services in line with prescribed procedures which will ensure economy, efficiency, transparency, equal opportunity and development effectiveness. It is important to appreciate that Public Procurement must meet all these objectives and not just economy (which normally is the prime consideration in private sector procurement).
Q-4: How does engineering background help for your assignment?
My role as a World Bank Advisor requires a multi-disciplinary approach but an engineering background helps tremendously as most procurement and contract management activities do involve technicalities for which engineers are best equipped to handle. Also a basic interest in 'development' is required. A total commercial orientation with top priority to financial profit is generally not a key attribute in development work. But engineers with the right approach and attitude can be very successful in development work because of their training.
The World Bank and its affiliates as well as World Bank funded programs (especially at the international level) can provide good career opportunities (also lucrative) for engineers with the right attitude. But it is important to find an opportunity to break into the line with some development oriented experience. Also a Master’s degree (i.e. post graduate qualifications) is preferable for World Bank related careers. In the broader field of development there are several possibilities for international opportunities through a career with international NGOs or other development agencies like the Asian Development Bank or African Development Bank or United Nations.
Q-5: Tell us about your career path.
After completing the B. Tech (Chemical Engineering) program in 1977, I did a Master's program (called M. Sc. in UK) from Birmingham University which I completed in 1979. My first job was with Tata Consulting Engineers, Bombay where I was involved in project engineering activities. In 1987, I took up an assignment in Uganda as Project Management Specialist for the World Bank Uganda Sugar Sector Rehabilitation Project. That is where I first broke into the field of development where my engineering and project management skills could be used. Since then it has been a continuous series of assignments in various countries covering a wide range of sectors including agro-industrial, roads, municipal infrastructure, education and now health - all under the sponsorship of the World Bank.
Q-6: Describe the modern Cambodia.
Since the overthrow of the Khmer Rouge in 1979 (by Vietnamese forces with the support of Hun Sen who was then a guerrilla leader operating underground and who is now the Cambodian Prime Minister), Cambodia was plagued with civil strife and insecurity till the late 1980s when Vietnam withdrew and UN forces (under the name and style of UN Transitional Authority for Cambodia) took over. This was the period when the overthrown king (Norodom Sihanouk) was reinstated and a constitutional monarchy was established. The UN left sometime in the early 90s and since then Cambodia has been making steady progress in its development efforts. Today Cambodia is peaceful and a vibrant tourist destination. In fact tourism and the garment export industry are the two biggest revenue earning sectors for Cambodia. Tourism is really thriving (thanks to the world famous Angkor Wat complex which, incidentally, was established by Hindu kings between the 6th to 10th centuries – the country now is predominantly Buddhist). More than 2 million tourists visit Cambodia annually and that is a fantastic number considering that the current population of Cambodia is around 14 million today (compare that with less than 4 million visitors to India with a population of 1.17 billion!).
The capital city of Phnom Penh is a vibrant place with rapid and visible development. In the last few years that I have been here, I have seen a lot of construction activity and the latest announcement in the media indicates that Phnom Penh will soon commence construction of the second tallest building in the world! We understand that this South Korean investment (incidentally another thing that we notice is that most commercial investments come in from China, Singapore, Korea and Malaysia but not India). Also work is on for establishing the institutional framework for the new Cambodian Stock Exchange and Securities Commission (due next year) which will give a much needed boost to capital markets and Foreign Direct investment (FDI) in Cambodia.
The other important cities are Sihanoukville (a seaside resort city with the main Cambodian port) and Siem Reap where the famous Ankor Wat complex is located. In fact the Archeological Survey of India is restoring the Ta Prom (ancient temple complex dedicated to Lord Brahma which was in ruins) that is part of the Angkor Wat complex.
The Exim Bank of India has provided a tied loan of around USD 15 million (which may be enhanced to USD 30 million as we understand) for an irrigation sector project in Cambodia.
However, considering the fact that the entire institutional framework in Cambodia was systematically destroyed during the Pol Pot Khmer Rouge regime (even the national currency ‘Riel’ was disbanded!!), the country still has a long way to go in total rehabilitation of its institutions and making them fully functional in line with internationally accepted norms.
Q-7: Tell us about your family and personal life.
My wife is Shreelekha and we have a daughter, Monisha, who has just completed a Master’s program in financial management from Mumbai University and secured a good position as a financial analyst with CRISIL (Standard’s & Poor). She had earlier completed her Bachelor’s program in computer engineering also from Mumbai University and was a Maharashtra State rank holder (19th) at the school level. While our home base is Mumbai, my family frequently travels to join me at whichever destination I am located.
My philosophy in life is to try and excel or improve in whatever profession one chooses and in ‘leading from the front’ whatever be the consequences (in my profession as a Public Procurement Advisor there are always pressures from all directions, including higher level political pressure, but one has to make sure that the right thing is done!). It is difficult but worth a try and immensely satisfying if you are sure about yourself. Also I am a firm believer in the fact that there is no end to learning in life (it just goes on and on and you will be surprised at the amount of things that you can still learn at about any stage in life!) and that the boarder the outlook you have (both nationally and globally), the more balanced and enlightened you are as a person. To sum it up “The quest for knowledge and the race for excellence does not have any finish line” ….anonymous
Deb, thanks for informative discussion with you.
Thanks Yogesh! It was a pleasure speaking to you after a really long time! I hope that I have been able to share some information which may be useful for our institute students who may, at some point in time, contemplate on taking up a career in the field of ‘development’.
Debabrata Majumdar can be reached at his personal email: email@example.com
The World Bank
The World Bank is a vital source of financial and technical assistance to developing countries around the world. Our mission is to fight poverty with passion and professionalism for lasting results and to help people help themselves and their environment by providing resources, sharing knowledge, building capacity and forging partnerships in the public and private sectors.
We are not a commercial bank in the common sense; we are made up of three unique development institutions owned by 187 member countries: the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD), the International Development Association (IDA) and the International Finance Corporation (IFC)
News item about Visit of President of India’s visit to Cambodia (Sept 13-16):
Pratibha Patil for Closer Cooperation with Cambodia in Human Resource, Agriculture, Defence
President Pratibha Patil underlined the potential for enhancing close cooperation between India and Cambodia in the field of Human Resource development, defence, agriculture and infrastructure, as she hailed the cordial relations between the two countries.
(Shrimati Pratibha Patil, President of India arrives in Cambodia)
Speaking at a banquet held in her honour by King of Cambodia Norodom Sihamoni yesterday, Patil said there has been close association between the two countries since the time of Jawaharlal Nehru’s Prime Ministership.
India’s first Prime Minister visited Cambodia in 1954.
Patil is the second Indian president, after Rajendra Prasad in March 1959, to pay a state visit to Cambodia.
‘Human resource development and capacity building have been the primary focus of India-Cambodia bilateral cooperation for the last many years.
‘India is cooperating with Cambodia in infrastructural projects, considered priority projects for the development of Cambodia, under concessional lines of credit,’ Patil said.
Yesterday, India signed a USD 15 million line of credit to Cambodia for the latter’s ongoing Stung Tassal Water Development Project. Patil also underlined further possibilities of collaborations on defence and security-related issues between the two countries.
‘India is happy to play a role in training the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officials.
‘It is heartening that in less than two decades, Cambodia has transformed itself from a country which hosted blue berets, to a troop-contributing nation for UN peacekeeping operations in Africa,’ she said.
‘We value the support extended by Cambodia for India’s enhanced engagement with the ASEAN and for India’s inclusion in the East Asia Summit,’ she added.
Patil maintained that since the agriculture sector in both countries is large, there was tremendous scope for cooperation.
‘Initiatives have also been undertaken to enhance economic engagement between our two countries. We need to encourage private sectors to pro-actively explore trade and investment opportunities,’ she said.
The Indian President also emphasised on closer cultural ties between the two countries, having predominantly young populations, ’so that our friendship and deep cultural links continue to resonate in the future’.
A Chair of Sanskrit and Buddhist Studies at Preah Sihanouk Raja Buddhist University and of Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Asian Traditional Textiles Museum has been set-up. PTI
(Map of Cambodia)
Ang-Kor Wat Temple, Cambodia
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Institute of Technology, Banaras Hindu University
Varanasi 221005, UP