Statement on the Ban on Civil Society Organizations Entering Singapore

By Focus on the Global South, Sept. 15, 2006

Focus on the Global South condemns, in the strongest terms possible,
actions by the Singapore Government to ban, hold, detain, deport, or
harass representatives of civil society organizations and social
movements who have tried to enter the island-state to participate in
activities related to the Annual Meetings of the World Bank and
International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Out of Step with the Times

 

The Singapore Government's actions are a paranoid reaction to a
non-existent threat to public order that has been cooked up by the
imagination of a ruling party that sees any form of criticism or
dissent as a security threat.  The motivation of Singapore's
security and political elite is transparent.  It fears the effect
that civil society organizations criticizing and debating the IMF and
the World Bank might have on the citizens of Singapore.  In
cracking down on organizations and individuals with legitimate reasons
to go to Singapore, however, the government has achieved the opposite
of what it intended: it has forcefully reminded its citizens and the
world of its obsolete authoritarian character.  It has underlined
how cut off Singapore is from a world where free speech, free
association, and democratic choice are the established norms of
political association.  The island-state is indeed out of step
with the times and with the world's community of nations.

 

Crocodile Tears from the IMF and World Bank

 

While the IMF and the World Bank have criticized the actions of the
Singapore Authorities, their gestures amount to little more than
crocodile tears.  The two institutions must be held accountable
for their roles in the shocking events of the past two weeks. 
 First of all, the IMF and Bank deliberately chose Singapore as
the venue for this year's Annual Meetings so that they could avoid the
peaceful demonstrations and other forms of free expression that
accompanied previous gatherings of the two institutions and the
ministerial meetings of the World Trade Organization (WTO).  It is
hypocritical for them to claim that they had no role in these terrible
turn of events. In fact, as soon as Singapore won the bid to host the
2006 Annual Meetings, numerous civil society organizations warned the
IMF and World Bank about the potential dangers of this choice. 
The very fact that the two institutions did not heed these warnings
shows how little concern they really have for democratic expression.

 

We in Focus would go further and say that the World Bank and the IMF
actively abetted the ban and harassment of civil society
representatives.  It is no coincidence that most of the
organizations banned have been the most vocal and effective critics of
the policies of the Bank and IMF.  These organizations have
consistently resisted being co-opted by the controlled "dialogue"
promoted by the two institutions and have refused to be taken in by the
Bank's rhetoric about "ending poverty" and supporting "good
governance."  We also have reason to believe that the specific
information released by the Singapore Government on Focus'
representatives is largely informed by internal World Bank-IMF sources.

 

Many civil society organizations, including Focus, sought formal
accreditation to the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings for the first time
this year.  But instead of an opportunity to debate Bank-IMF
officials and leadership on issues, we have been exposed to an
unwarranted, unjustified and unacceptable security risk by being
blacklisted by the Singapore Government.

 

The Authoritarian Axis

 

Hypocrisy is a commodity that is in plentiful supply in Singapore this
week. We ask:  by what moral authority do the Bank and IMF
criticize the Singapore Government when they themselves are firmly
hierarchical and non-transparent organizations, controlled unashamedly
by a small clique of rich countries headed by the United States? 
These are not democratic institutions controlled by the majority of
their members.

 

Not only are the World Bank, IMF, and Singapore Government similar in
their structure of authoritarian decision-making, but also, they are
like-minded in their proclivity to ignore democratic consultation and
ride roughshod over the welfare, interests, and wishes of the people
they claim to serve.  No country ever voted democratically to have
a structural adjustment program.  Structural adjustment programs
were and are imposed from above by the IMF, World Bank and isolated but
powerful government elites, and have always met with resistance by the
vast majority of the population. It is hardly surprising that Singapore
is rated by the Bank as of the top places to do business.

 

Indeed, throughout their history, the IMF and World Bank have had to
cultivate authoritarian regimes like Singapore's party dictatorship in
order to impose their preferred pro-corporate and anti-people
policies.  How did Marcos remain in office for 14 years? 
Partly because of the massive support he got from the World Bank and
the IMF.  How did Suharto cling to power for so long?  Again,
partly because of support from the IMF and the World Bank.  The
Bank provided Suharto's family, cronies, and corrupt underlings with an
estimated $10 billion from the $30 billion that it funneled as
so-called "development aid" to Indonesia.  And in case we think
that the era of World Bank-IMF cooperation with dictatorships is over,
two of the biggest financial backers of the Musharraf military
dictatorship in Pakistan are none other than the World Bank and the
IMF.

 

The Consequences of Repression

 

The events of the past two weeks and especially the last few days may,
ironically enough, have as a lasting consequence the exposure of the
common authoritarian character shared by the World Bank, IMF, and the
Singapore Government.

 

They will also result in the further erosion of their legitimacy. 
Indeed, nothing that we could have done through protest could have
proved more harmful to the credibility of these three institutions than
what they have done to themselves over the last few days.

 

In attempting to smash peaceful civil society organizations and social
movements, the Singapore Government may have unwittingly awakened the
citizens of the island-state to how out-of-step their government is
with the global community of nation-states and provided the spark for
them to stand up to the governing elite and say, we will no longer be
treated like children that face caning or worse whenever we
dissent.  In abetting the suppression of dissent during these
fateful weeks, the World Bank and the IMF may well have lost their last
shreds of credibility and paved the way for the emergence of a critical
mass of global citizens that will demand their abolition and
replacement by institutions that would truly serve the interests of the
world's people.

For enquiries please contact: 
Dr. Walden Bello:  (+66) 1 9350633
Joy Chavez:  (+63) 918 9026716
Shalmali Guttal:  (+91) 9886020362