The New
York Times
9, 2006
WASHINGTON, Sept. 8 — The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, two organizations that repeatedly praise the role of “civil society” activist groups in poor countries, have protested a decision by Singapore to bar representatives of several such groups at their meeting with the leaders of poor countries next week.

The action by Singapore was taken out of fear of protests and violence, according to the Singapore police. But several of those barred were invited by both the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to attend the meetings as part of a general effort in recent years to reach out to nongovernment organizations.

“We believe that all individuals who have been accredited to the annual meetings should be allowed to attend,” the two organizations said Friday. “We strongly urge the Singapore government to act swiftly and reverse their decision on entry and access to the meetings for these representatives.”

The State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said the United States understood Singapore’s concerns about security and recognized its sovereign right to handle it the best way it saw fit. But he called on Singapore “to be as flexible as possible” and let those groups accredited to attend do so “and express their views.”

Singapore generally has a low tolerance for political protests and unruly behavior, sometimes invoking extremely punitive laws against foreigners. The government previously banned outdoor protests at the meeting.

Accordingly, several groups have organized protests on the nearby island of Batam, a part of Indonesia, but it was not clear whether Indonesia would let them take place.

Leaders of the bank and the fund, established after World War II as the guardians of economic stability and poverty reduction, are due to meet with scores of finance ministers next week. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. is to represent the United States, along with Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve board.

The move by Singapore was especially embarrassing for the bank’s president, Paul D. Wolfowitz, who has made his appeals for proper “governance” a cornerstone of his 15 months at the bank and called on poor countries around the world to strengthen the role of nongovernment organizations.

The annual meetings of the two organizations have been a focus of protests over the years by dissidents demonstrating against trade, environmental and economic policies of the richest countries of the world. Such protests have nearly shut down some meetings but in recent years the protests have been peaceful.

Both the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund have tried to quiet the rebellion by inviting groups to their meeting. For next week’s session, they have accredited nearly 500 representatives from more than 45 countries, they said Friday.

Among the individuals barred from Singapore was Antonio Tricarico, coordinator of an Italian group, Campaign to Reform the World Bank. The barred groups included the International NGO Forum of Indonesia, or Infid; Focus on the Global South, based in Thailand; and the World Development Movement, based in Britain.

“It’s completely astonishing,” Mr. Tricarico said, “in particular because the World Bank welcomed us to go and even our government cleared our participation.” He said he had never been involved in any violent protests.

The Singapore police issued a statement saying that the annual meetings of the bank and the fund would “attract the attention of many, not least those who may want to use the ready platform and presence of the international media to stage events that will pose a security threat to Singapore.”

Steven R. Weisman reported from Washington and Wayne Arnold from Singapore.