The sorry saga by Singapore to prevent WB-IMF protests

Lidy Nacpil
Jubilee South
12 Sept 06

1. The International Peoples Forum vs the IMF and the World Bank is an initiative of more than 30 international, regional and national organizations to provide a venue for the convergence of activities and actions by social movements, NGOs, peoples organizations and citizens groups. Our Indonesian hosts, led by INFID, first notified the Indonesian national authorities about this event in late July. They also met with Batam local authorities subsequently. The Indonesian government, both national and local (Batam), gave all indications of openness and cooperation.

2. In late August (Aug 28 -31), however, our INFID colleagues had to rush to Batam because of the news that the Singapore police had visited the Batam local police and asked them not to allow the IPF to be held in Batam (in so many diplomatic words). Following this visit, the Batam police changed their stance and attitude towards the IPF activity, and in early September the head of Police of the province, Brig. Gen Sutarman started giving interviews to print media that they were not allowing the IPF to take place in Batam.

3. Meantime, the national authorities maintained their stance of openness. In the first week of September, the Foreign Affairs office even gave assurances that the issuance of visas to IPF participants would be facilitated. Indonesian colleagues also clarified to us that under the Indonesian constitution, freedom of speech and peaceful assembly is guaranteed, the only requirement being that the police be notified of activities at least three days before the scheduled event. On this basis, they are continuing preparations for the IPF and seeking dialogue with national authorities.

4. On Sept 6 Brig Gen Sutarman, head of Police of the province came out on Indonesia national television stating that the IPF is definitely not being allowed. Together with him in the panel were leaders of so-called local NGOs from Batam who, police claim, are opposed to the holding of IPF in Batam. Indonesian colleagues say these “local NGOs” are syndicates involved in dubious activities and are sometimes used by politicians and police. At least one of these organizations date back to the Suharto era.

With this announcement on national television, IPF organizers prepared for the worst­
that this might be the final word of the Indonesian Government. It was decided to go full steam to protest these developments publicly even as Indonesian colleagues intensify their lobby with the national authorities.

5. In the following 48 hours (Sept 7-8), numerous statements from international networks, social movements, citizens groups and NGOs expressing concern, protest and condemnation were circulated globally, sent to the media, various governments, especially Singapore and Indonesia, and to the World Bank and IMF. While the Singapore government is being severely criticized and denounced, many are also pointing out that the IMF and WB should bear part of the responsibility for what is happening — for choosing Singapore as site of the meeting in the first place, knowing full well that it would mean suppression of civil society voices and actions.

6. On September 8 afternoon, IPF organizers received word that finally the Indonesian National Police will be releasing a “permit” for the event, following a long discussion in the Indonesian Cabinet over this matter. However, the permit comes with restrictions against any kind of outdoor activities, and granted only for activities on the days of 15 to 17 September.

On this basis, the IPF organizers are pushing through with the IPF as scheduled on the 15th to the 17th, but with adjustments on plans for outdoor events like the public concert/cultural activity originally scheduled for the 16th evening.

Unfortunately, however, organizations who scheduled related activities in Batam before and after the 15th to the 17th (like the Asian Labor Assembly) have had to change their plans.

7. The Batam police were still being quoted by media over the weekend (September 9 and 10) that the IPF is prohibited from taking place. Today, Monday, September 11, IPF organizers are expecting that the Batam local police (and provincial police) will be officially notified of the national decision to allow the IPF.

Ban on organizations and individuals from entering Singapore

1. From the 7th of September, colleagues from different countries and organizations started receiving notice from the World Bank and/or the Foreign Affairs offices of their governments that they are in a list of organizations/individuals that the Singapore government has banned from entering Singapore.

2. Sources from the World Bank said that it is a list of 20 (some reports say 19) individuals from the following organizations ­ INFID Indonesia, CRBM Italy, Freedom from Debt Coalition Philippines, World Development Movement UK and Focus on the Global South ­ and all of them have received accreditation from the WB and IMF to participate in their official events with NGOs.

3. More organizations and individuals to be banned — The eventual number of banned organizations and representatives is likely to be far longer than 20. A source in the Bank said that the Singapore authorities might not have vetted all those accredited yet, only those who got accreditation early. Others who were notified of their accreditation just recently may also suffer the same fate.

Furthermore, the list furnished to the World Bank by the Singapore government includes only those who have received accreditation. Other participants of the International Peoples Forum who did not apply for accreditation for the official events may likewise be barred from entry to Singapore.

4. The ban on individuals and organizations has led to further intensification of civil society reactions and protests over the suppression of basic rights and freedoms by the Singapore government.

5. Last Saturday, September 9, a Joint Statement from the World Bank and IMF, dated Sept 7, came out urging the Singapore government to reverse its decision and allow all accredited participants from NGOs entry into Singapore. However, many have expressed dissatisfaction over the inadequate and lame response of these institutions, and the view that the WB and IMF must share part of the blame for having chosen Singapore as venue for the meeting in the first place.

6. A number of IPF participants have already reported more than the usual difficulties in making travel arrangements (visa processing, booking being refused by Singapore Airlines etc). Many others have had to change their route to Batam and go via Jakarta.

7. To date, the Government of Singapore continues to insist that they will not allow “troublemakers” and “undesirables” into the country.