Wolfowitz, NGOs knock S’pore for IMF activist ban
9 Sep 06
Singapore has drawn sharp criticism from the World Bank chief and non-governmental groups after it banned about 20 activists from entering the country for next week’s IMF-World Bank meetings.
Singapore police issued a terse statement on Friday saying anyone deemed “undesirable” would be ineligible for entry during the period of the IMF-World Bank meetings and side events which start on Wednesday. They did not elaborate.
Singapore-based activists said the ban — which targeted activists from groups including the International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, the Freedom from Debt Coalition and the World Development Movement — was uncalled for and a snub to the organisers.
“It is quite a big embarrassment for the World Bank itself, which is trying to reach out to the civil society and talk about governance, transparency and democracy,” said Sinapan Samydorai, president of Think Centre in Singapore.
“Here we have a government that is rejecting everything they stand for,” he said.
Although the World Bank said outdoor protests should be allowed during the conference, Singapore has agreed to permit only indoor protests within a designated area in the lobby of the conference venue.
Public demonstrations are rare in Singapore, which requires a police permit for all outdoors protests and for any gathering of more than four people.
Paul Wolfowitz, president of the World Bank, told the BBC he hoped Singapore authorities would reverse what he called a bad decision, adding that it was important to hold a “strong dialogue” with such groups.
“We may not always agree with what they have to say, but it is very important to have that discussion,” he said.
Apart from the thousands of officials attending the meetings, the IMF and World Bank said they had already accredited nearly 500 “civil society representatives” from more than 45 countries.
The wrong place?
In a joint statement on Friday which civic groups said was too soft on Singapore, the IMF and World Bank urged the government to allow all properly accredited representatives to attend the meetings.
“We have consistently opposed any restrictions on full participation and peaceful expression of views,” the statement said. “We strongly urge the Singapore government to act swiftly and reverse their decision on entry and access to the meetings for these representatives.”
Lidy Nacpil, international coordinator for Jubilee South, a network of NGOs, told Reuters the IMF and World Bank should have anticipated such a decision by Singapore.
“I don’t think they can pretend to be that shocked, because they knew very well when they chose Singapore, the orientation and nature and domestic policies of the country, and they should have anticipated this,” she said.
“In fact, they should not have chosen Singapore in the first place if they truly are upholding the rights of citizens to have their say in issues.”
Samydorai said Singapore, which is trying to turn itself into a major financial centre and regional tourism base, needed to find a way to better engage civil society.
“By doing this, I think the world will get to know what is the real Singapore,” he said. “Of course, we are economically better off, but political-control wise, I think it’s time for them to rethink, or revisit, the concept of being more open.”
However, Peggy Kek, deputy executive director for the NGO Singapore International Foundation, said she could understand the city-state’s concerns about security.
Singapore, as a staunch U.S. ally and a major base for Western business, sees itself as a prime terrorism target in Southeast Asia after foiling plots in 2001 by the Jemaah Islamiah group to attack various Western targets in Singapore.
“Everybody’s on heightened alert at the moment and when you have such a big group of high-level people in one place at one time, it’s got to be an attractive target, and that’s what one has to think about,” she said.
NGO ban ‘will embarass Singapore’
8 Sep 06
Singapore’s banning of 19 accredited activists from a giant world financial conference ignited predictions Saturday that the move would backfire and embarrass the city-state, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
“The world will see the reality of Singapore,” said Sinapan Samydorai of the Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development, with the city-state so saturated in security that members of the public will be subject to random searches.
More than 16,000 delegates from 184 countries were starting to arrive during the weekend for the September 11-20 seminars and annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank.
Members of civil society organizations (CSOs) were also expected following the government banning of 19 representatives deemed possible security threats by police despite the urgings of the IMF and World Bank to allow them to attend.
Among those prohibited was Antonio Tricarrio, coordinator of the Campaign to Reform the World Bank, who described the Singapore government’s stand as a “major blow” to the two institutions and “terribly embarrassing.”
The prohibition followed Singapore’s refusal to comply with World Bank requests to allow outside protests and has relegated the more than 500 CSOs to two rooms in the corner of the Suntec City lobby. They will be allowed to engage delegates in front of the rooms.
Earlier this month Peter Stephens, with the World Bank’s Singapore office, said the body was working to ensure that “diverse civil society voices are very much heard before, during and after the annual meetings.”
In contrast, police said on Friday, “While we welcome bona fide travellers to visit Singapore during the event, those who are deemed undesirable will not be eligible for entry.”
“Whether the activists, many of whom are familiar with street protests outside venues, will comply with the restrictions is unknown,” Samydorai said.
More than 10,000 police and military will be on the lookout for unlawful gatherings boosted by helicopters hovering above.
Gatherings of more than four people outside without a police permit have long been banned in the city-state, determined to boost its image as a safe destination for high-profile conventions.
With the city under siege, financial firms have told their staff to go on leave or work from home to cope with the security measures, access blocks and traffic.
Giant UBS is having nearly half of its staff either go on leave or work from other sites, including their homes and even overseas offices. The bank is asking staff to work in shifts.
The government has spent 60 million US dollars on the event since it was awarded the bid six years ago.
“UBS’s approach to contingency arrangements is based on pragmatic measures designed to minimize the logistical issues of getting staff to and from the Suntec area,” The Business Times quoted chief operating officer Teo Lay Sie as saying.
UBS employs nearly 1,800 people in the city-state, with the vast majority at Suntec city.
At Kim Eng Securities, executive vice-president Tan Pei San said more staff than usual are taking leave during the IMF/World Bank meetings.
Other staff of the securities firm have been encouraged to work staggered hours.
“We can’t stagger hours of our trading staff,” he told the newspaper.
Despite the measures banks and businesses are taking in the Suntec City area, they do not want to deter customers.
“The measures we have established will provide the environment for us to ensure it is business as usual,” Teo said.
To minimize clients’ inconvenience, UBS has informed them to avoid coming to the Suntec area as access is expected to be very difficult.
Retailers in the area are hoping the delegates and their spouses will compensate for the drop in local shoppers and are offering tempting discounts.
“There may be some difference in the number of shoppers because the security arrangements will cut out drivers from entering the Suntec area, but we hope that the delegates will make up for it,” Alan Tan, OSIM’s head of marketing said.
OSIM will have 12 of its massage chairs ready to soothe weary delegates at the meeting, Tan said.