WASHINGTON - September 8 - Civil society groups worldwide have reacted angrily to the Singaporean government’s ban on up to 20 delegates who plan to attend Bank/Fund annual meetings there next week. They have also condemned the pressure apparently brought by Singapore’s government on the administration of neighbouring Batam, Indonesia, where a major civil society conference will be held next week. Yesterday it appeared that permission would not be granted for the conference, but today, following an international outcry, official sources in Jakarta confirmed it can go ahead.
Three years ago when the IMF & World Bank designated Singapore for their joint annual meetings civil society groups predicted these difficulties. Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South commented “Singapore’s thorough restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly are well known. The sounds of shock and disappointment from the IMF and World Bank cannot be taken seriously”. “The IMF and World Bank are trying to shed their image as economic disciplinarians and reposition themselves as civil society-friendly and as good governance champions, but these events show how little they have changed”, said Nacpil.
“Three years ago, we went through a similar ordeal when the World Bank chose to have its annual meetings in the Emirate of Dubai,” said Sameer Dossani of the 50 Years Is Enough Network. “It seems that the only countries where the IMF and World Bank feel secure are those with no respect for human rights and civil liberties.”
Antonio Tricarico of Campaign to Reform the World Bank, Italy – one of the organisations whose staff are banned from going to the Singapore meeting said “Italian government representatives in Singapore contacted me to say that I would not be allowed entry to Singapore because I am on some kind of ‘black list’”. Other organisations known to be on the banned include list INFID (Indonesia), Freedom from Debt Coalition (Philippines), FOCUS on the Global South, (Asia region) and World Development Movement (UK). These are all well-known groups committed to non-violent advocacy on economic justice issues.
The civil society outcry this week has reversed the announced ban on the International People’s Forum in Batam, Indonesia, an island just 45 minutes from Singapore by ferry. Indonesian lead organisers INFID confirm that the conference will go ahead from September 15-17 – just before the official meetings in Singapore. “Local and international organizers have been planning this conference for months,” said Dian Kartikasari of INFID, an organizer of the event. “We are expecting over 1000 participants from more than 40 countries around the world. The conference will be a space to discuss opposition to neoliberal economic policies promoted by the IMF and World Bank and alternative models of people-centered development.”
Civil society groups chose the location in Indonesia because of the notorious restrictions in Singapore and because of Indonesia’s vibrant network of civil society groups and its own sour experience enduring IMF mistreatment during the East Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s.
As well as the events in Singapore and Indonesia civil society groups are planning a week of mobilisation against the World Bank and IMF in 74 countries between 14 and 20 September.