WASHINGTON - September 13 - Christian Aid is urging a boycott by civil society groups of this year’s annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) in Singapore as authorities there continue to ban their representatives from entering the country.
Overnight (between Tuesday and Wednesday) the number of supporters of development and human rights groups who have been refused entry to Singapore has risen from 19 to 28. This includes Christian Aid partner Focus on the Global South.
‘This is an extremely disappointing development by the Singaporean authorities,’ said John McGhie, Christian Aid’s Campaigns Editor. ‘We are now keen to lend our full support to the international call for an immediate boycott of all formal talks with either the Bank or the Fund in Singapore. It would be a travesty to hold cosy chats with their officials while so many of our colleagues are being denied entry to the country.’
The decision by the IMF and WB to site talks in Singapore, a country which has previously proved robust in quelling dissent, has aroused widespread suspicion that the organisations are keen to suppress criticism of their work.
The IMF’s practice of attaching damaging economic conditions to its loans has proved extremely controversial. Christian Aid is holding a march in London tomorrow (Thursday) to highlight these issues and it had been hoped that the criticisms would have been aired at a series of multilateral meetings in Singapore between civil society groups and the IMF.
But now, in the wake of the refusal by Singaporean authorities to let the 28 people attend the meetings, Christian Aid is adding its voice to the call for a boycott of all civil society dialogues with either the IMF or the WB.
The move is bound to embarrass Bank officials in particular. The WB’s new Director General, Paul Wolfowitz, a former member of US President’s George Bush’s cabinet, has spent his first few months in office pursuing a ‘governance’ agenda that sought to eliminate corruption in developing countries. In order to achieve this he was leaning heavily on civil society groups for both credibility and implementation..
‘It is farcical for the Bank and the Fund to meet and discuss human rights in a country where human rights are restricted. It shows how out of step with reality they are and underscores our argument that the UK government should withdraw funding from both the IMF and the World Bank. These organisations are illegitimate because they seek to impose damaging conditions on loans. It is high time they reformed, ‘said Anna Thomas, Christian Aid’s senior policy manager.
Meanwhile fears are growing that legitimate members of civil society groups who make it through could be attacked by street thugs when they attend an alternative Forum to be staged in nearby Indonesia.
The Indonesian newspaper Batam Post last week (Sept 8) reported a local police chief promising to disrupt the meeting of 500 or so civil society supporters with the help of a notorious local youth group who have a long history of street fighting and violence.