Why World Bank should relocate to another meet venue and other big meetings should avoid PAPland in future
Monday, July 31, 2006World Bank Campaigning for Self-CriticismPosted at 03:20 pm by gaylegoh
Singapore is gearing up to receive international delegates for the approaching World Bank and IMF meetings. We have been encouraged to smile for the cameras and beef up the quality of our service sector in order to have them feel welcome, and to make the event a successful and memorable affair.
Yet in the weeks leading up to the much-anticipated meetings, there has emerged a potential - indeed by now, a probable - point of contention between Singapore and these international institutions. The tension in these differing opinions does not reside in how brightly Singaporeans smile, or how well the Fullerton beds are made, but rather in an issue which no doubt many Singaporeans will find strange, especially in the context of our political culture.
The World Bank wants the right to be criticized.
What silliness! What an oddity of circumstance, for a powerful, respectable institution to lobby for permission to be granted to civil society organisations to have 'more opportunity to express their views', in a manner that will most certainly be non-complimentary to the World Bank. After all, the World Bank has been consistently criticized as an instrument of modern-day imperialism, constructed as a tool of oppression wielded by the USA in order to wreak their expansionist mischief under the banner of Pax Americana (I exaggerate, but only slightly). Citizens of the developing world which receives loans from the World Bank and the IMF have campaigned against them, saying that they are dominated by America and Europe and thus have ulterior motives behind their actions. Even former World Bank Chief Economist Joseph Stigliz, in his excellent and highly-recommended book Globalization and its Discontents, has bitterly criticized its sister institution, the IMF, for compromising the sovereignty of recipient countries over their economic policies with their conditional loans and their one-size-fits-all policies. These include austerity measures that require governments to drastically decrease expenditure, often with the results of reduced spending on housing, education and healthcare. These institutions, which are both post-WWII constructs designed to promote worldwide prosperity and the stability of the international economy, have definitely received much flak from a great number of people.
Yet why does it still want these people to be heard? Is it not afraid that such criticisms will promote cynicism and despondency? Goodness gracious, it's not like it's the role of citizens, journalists or academic to campaign for or against a particular cause, especially when it comes to the highly sophisticated workings of the international economy which are far beyond mortal understanding.
World Bank has provided the answer: It believes that 'effective inclusion of the voices of civil society is key to ensuring that the annual meetings are a success.' Instead of running away from its critics, the World Bank has decided that including them, and giving them a platform on which to speak, is the course of action that will grant them the most international legitimacy. And thank goodness it is open-minded enough to reach that decision. Thank goodness also, that - if not in Singapore, in only a few weeks - then elsewhere around the world, these same criticisms can continue to be voiced openly and without fear, so that the IMF and the World Bank can continue to make changes to its policies and, through a learning process, arrive at solutions through genuinely open and inclusive discourse.
The million dollar question though, is how far Singapore will go to accommodate the request of the World Bank and, no doubt, various civil organizations. So far the response has been non-encouraging. Outdoor protests are banned. Wong Kan Seng said in February, that public protests ''attract severe punishment, including caning and imprisonment". The CNA article, linked above, states implicatingly:
"Police say that they have consulted the World Bank on this.
Responding to Channel NewsAsia's queries, the World Bank says in a written response that it learned of the proposed arrangements on Wednesday and has not discussed them in detail with the Singapore Government nor considered their implications."
That's funny. It exposes once more the Singaporean authorities' notion of 'consultation'. They 'consult' citizens regularly on important issues by informing them when the government has reached a decision, just like the police have 'consulted' the World Bank by informing them of their decided arrangements, without having given them the opportunity to have 'discussed them in detail...nor considered their implications'.
The government can tell its citizens to put on their Sunday best and give the world a good impression. But it is the government who is really in a position to impress, or to confirm many a negative opinion of our city-state held in the international community. This article*, for instance, is already smothered in sarcasm over the decision. Blisteringly, it says:
"The restrictive law against public gatherings -- where any gathering of more than four people need a security permit -- was introduced by the British when it ruled this country as part of its colonial empire. The military dictatorship in Burma, also a former British colony, keeps Singapore company by upholding the same law. "
All eyes are on Singapore - not on us, as much as it is on the government. This will determine whether or not Singapore is suited to host other important international events in the future, or if countries and organizations will start to shy away from using our country as a venue for discussion, meeting and debate. We are no China, to rely on vast plots of land and sprawling cities to sustain and host events like the Olympics. Meetings such as those of the IMF and the World Bank are the type of events we rely on to promote our country as a hub for international affairs and a forum for change. If we don't start to modernize our political culture, not just our infrastructure or our hotels, then Singapore is destined to have a short-lived career in this respect.
* It's an article from a Bangkok correspondent. I've noticed in my research that Australian and Thai articles are often the most vehement, likely because of our negative brush-ins with those countries over incidents/issues such as the death penalty and the ShinCorp deal. These articles don't just stay in Australia and Thailand, perpetuating a negative perspective of Singapore, but are disseminated to foreign media as well, further cementing the bad impression overseas, not just in the region. Instant karma: you don't get away with bulldozing your way through here and there, without paying a price for it somewhere else. With all due respect to Vivian Balakrishnan, it is narrow-minded to say that he doesn't care what foreign media think. Foreign media companies have great reach and influence the opinions of people all over the world - opinions which actually matter in other countries, and to other international institutions, even if they don't count for much here in Singapore. Why do you think we bothered to sue the Economist anyway.
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