Monday, May 29, 2006

Singapore, Host of 2006 IMF/WB Annual Meeting Gears Up for Summit

WITH less than four months to go before Singapore hosts the International Monetary Fund and World Bank summit, Deputy Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng has called on the Republic's police force to ready itself for any potential security threats. As 16,000 luminaries are arriving from some 184 countries for the conferences in September, security is expected to be at an all-time high.

Speaking at the annual Police Workplan Seminar yesterday, which was attended by some 900 police officers, grassroots leaders and corporate partners, Mr Wong said: "The police must be well prepared to ensure the safety of the delegates attending the event and of our people. Apart from law and order problems, the police must also take into account the terrorist threat of such a high profile event."

While commending the security measures for the 117th International Olympic Committee Session held here last year, Mr Wong stressed that the police "cannot allow disorder and a chaotic situation to undermine security".

"The police must ensure that while legitimate and peaceful activity, whether by local or foreign groups, can proceed in accordance with our laws, those who choose to breach our laws must be dealt with firmly."

Meanwhile, the police are spending more than $18.4 million to boost its operational capabilities in dealing with public disorder. For one, customised, portable barricades are being developed. These "public order barricades" can be transformed into a 2.5metre-tall structure weighing 500kg to respond to different "threat levels". They are also built with razor mesh on top to prevent rioters from climbing over.

Over the last two years, the police have also been conceptualising purpose-built vehicles that it expects to roll out in September.

Its Neighbourhood Police Centre has developed a multi-functional van, which besides patrolling and transporting personnel in custody can also be deployed to maintain public order. The police are bringing in 33 units of the vehicle at $140,000 each. Equipped with an automated barricade fence, the windows of the 4.25-tonne vehicle are reinforced by security mesh and its undercarriage is protected against petrol bombs.

The Special Operations Command, which is primarily responsible for police tactical operations, maintenance of public order and security, is also building up its capabilities through the acquisition of three new types of vehicles to aid its operations.

Over the next three months, its Police Tactical Unit will bring in 47 vehicles at a cost of $13.79 million. Designed to withstand impact, these purpose-built vehicles also come with protective features such as an undercarriage fire extinguishing system and a ventilation system that prevents harmful gases from seeping in. They are also equipped with features such as detachable, front-mounted barricades, strobe lights, gun ports and 360-degree video recording systems.

But even though such hardware is important, Mr Wong yesterday also reiterated the importance of community involvement in Singapore's fight against terrorism and crimes. Pointing out that 42 per cent of arrests for major crimes last year were made with public assistance, as compared to 39 per cent and 37 per cent in 2004 and 2003 respectively, he said: "Engaging the community stakeholders will continue to be a key pillar in the police's strategy to fight crime and terrorism.

"The public confidence in the police and the public's willingness to come forward to help is encouraging. Police must treasure this public trust."


Coming from the hosts of the IMF/WB Annual Meetings who had openly declared that they would not hesitate to cane protestors, Singapore seems to think that plenty of blood will be shed on that draconian state of theirs.

The hardware purchased seem to ensure that the Meeting would be a bloody stage.

If such measures are already taken, would protestors be even allowed to protest? So much for human rights.

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Saturday, May 27, 2006

Why say "NO" to IMF

A crash course on why the International Monetary Fund is bad for you and I.

What is the IMF and what does it do?
The International Monetary Fund is a UN agency set up by the 1944 Bretton Woods conference to secure financial stability in the world economy.

How does it work?
It seeks to promote international monetary cooperation, exchange stability, and orderly exchange arrangements in its 183 member states. Hard currency is also lent to countries experiencing balance of payments deficits, probably the most important part of its work.

What makes the IMF unpopular?
It is the economic reforms it insists upon as conditions for financial assistance. Critics say that since the 1980s the IMF has abandoned its original mission in favour of restructuring national economies along a US model once favoured by Ronald Reagan. Restructuring plans (now named "poverty reduction strategies") list an average of 114 conditions per country in return for capital. In each case, those on the receiving end have to remove trade barriers, sell national assets to foreign investors, slash social spending and crush trade unions.

Who is affected?
Largely third world and developing countries. For example, Tanzania was forced to charge for hospital visits and school fees. Hospital treatment fell by 53% and the illiteracy rate soared. In Ecuador, the IMF ordered 26,000 jobs cuts along with a halving of real wages for the remaining workers. Meanwhile, it demanded the sale of the water system to foreign owners and an 80% increase in the price of cooking oil.

What is it thinking?
The IMF is dominated by neo-liberal economics that decree countries are best served by making an easy fit with the world economy. Globalisation allows them to provide products and services demanded by external markets and the theory goes bring in foreign investment. The removal of trade barriers and employment legislation makes the newly restructured countries more attractive to the multinationals.

Does it work?
GDP and life expectancy did rise in the last 50 years of the twentieth century, but global inequality is growing and besides some of these improvements took place in the days before the neo-liberal IMF, when per capita income grew by 74% in South America. At present, the rich nations are becoming richer and the developing world, crippled by debt repayment and "restructuring", has little control over its economic future much having already been surrendered.

But we do not know what would have happened to the developing world if the IMF had not given its assistance. The restructuring was after all - offered at times of economic crisis when previous models were judged to have failed, hit by rising oil costs and instability on the world financial markets.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

U2's Bono Pledges Fight on Global Trade

AFTER a successful campaign to cancel the debts of some of the world's poorest countries, rocker-activist Bono today took on the world's powerbrokers over trade to Africa.

In Ghana on the last stop of a six nation African tour, Bono said today there was a new mood of optimism on the continent but farm subsidies and other trade barriers in large markets like the United States and Europe were blocking progress.

Bono said taking on the trade issue on behalf of Africa was not going to be easy.

"We're up against vested interests and big powerful lobby groups," he said after touring a market in Accra, the capital.

He said he and other trade activists had to get better at explaining to US and European farmers how their agricultural subsidies were hurting African producers.

Bono hoped his involvement would help give Africa a voice at the World Trade Organisation's Doha round,currently stalled over agricultural issues.

"The social movements will give us political muscle and that makes it do-able, but it is going to be a big fight," he said.

On his Africa tour, Bono visited textile and apparel factories in Lesotho and Tanzania where businesses had closed and jobs were lost because of the phasing out of the Multi-Fibre Agreement, which gave Asian producers greater access to developed markets as quotas under the agreement were scrapped.

In Mali, he visited a cotton-growing community to see the direct impact of US cotton subsidies, which African cotton producers say depress world prices and ruin their economies.

The U2 lead singer played a key role in marshalling popular support for debt forgiveness for some of the world's poorest countries and used his fame to influence world leaders in personal meetings.

In June last year the Group of Eight industrialised countries agreed to write off the debts of 18 countries, most of them in Africa, and double aid to the continent by 2010

At a meeting with Bono today, Ghana's President John Kufuor praised the rock star's work for Africa but told him that increased trade had to go hand in hand with aid to address the continent's underlying poverty.

"Our part of the world is in transition and it will take some muscle to keep up the changes," he told the rock star after a meeting.

"With the right policies and some encouragement, we will be able through partnerships to compete. For Ghana to get to such a position we will need some aid," he said.

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Monday, May 22, 2006

WTO Membership Will Make Russia $19B Richer

So much for alleviating the poor. Junk WTO!


Senior European official said that joining the World Trade Organization is in Russia’s interest, especially because it could earn about $19 billion from the move.

Kimmo Sasi, who presented a report on the Russian economic situation for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said that Russia’s WTO membership could substantially strengthen the status of other members of the organization and would be in the interests of the Russian Federation itself.

He said Russia would gain an estimated $19 billion from joining the WTO, which would, furthermore, improve the living standards of virtually all strata of the population. Sasi did not explain where the $19 billion in question would come from. He added that accession to this global trading body would also liberalize markets and provide broad access for foreign investors to the country’s telecoms, banking, transport and insurance sectors, while tariffs would be halved.

In addition, Kimmo Sasi said that Russia’s accession to the WTO would give it a better legal position if it had to deal with anti-dumping procedures. Sasi said all of that combined would enable Russia to compensate substantially for a possible loss in labor efficiency that could result from reduction in state subsidies for Russian enterprises in the agro-industrial complex and on foreign markets.

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Wednesday, May 17, 2006

WTO Future Hangs in Balance

It's about time =)


The future of the World Trade Organisation, even its role as referee in big commercial disputes, could be brought into question if its tottering global free trade talks finally collapse, diplomats and analysts say.

For many observers, it is fear of these consequences that could yet force the WTO's 149 member states to do what they have not done in over four years of wrangling and strike a deal in the troubled negotiations before time runs out.

Failure could encourage the more powerful to turn away from the Geneva-based WTO and seek new business through bilateral and regional deals, rather than taking the multilateral route where all can get a share of the action.

It could even tarnish the so-called "jewel in the crown" of the 11-year-old trade body, its dispute settlement role, undermining political readiness in member states to accept its rulings and so rendering them difficult to apply.

"I think the future of the WTO may be hanging in the balance. If the round collapses, it may spell the end of the WTO as a negotiating forum," warned Daniel Griswold of the pro-free trade Washington-based Cato Institute.

"If the whole thing fails, it would be very damaging for the WTO over time," echoed former Canadian trade envoy John Weekes.

The Doha Development Agenda was launched in late 2001 at the urging of rich states with the stated aim of helping boost global growth to lift millions out of poverty.

It had taken years to get suspicious developing countries to agree to further trade liberalisation, because they felt previous rounds had delivered little. It was only the swell of international solidarity sparked by the September 11 attacks on the United States that convinced them to do so.


The sense of common purpose did not last. Splits between rich and poor, particularly over agriculture, resurfaced to slow progress in the round which, if successful, could inject some $100 billion (53 billion pounds) into the world economy, the World Bank says.

Now the negotiations are drifting towards an end-July deadline for a draft pact on slashing farm subsidies, opening up industrial goods' and services' markets, reforming rules on politically sensitive issues such as dumping and giving special aid-for-trade to poorer developing states.

The final package must be signed, sealed and delivered early next year, but that will only happen if the July date is kept.

If July is missed, the WTO would be left facing a number of scenarios, none of them palatable.

There could be a desperate scramble to salvage what has already been agreed and come up with some sort of minimal deal -- a so-called "Doha lite", analysts say.

However, nearly all major players in the negotiations, including the United States and the European Union, have warned that such a thin result could be politically just as difficult to achieve as a full-blooded free trade treaty.

Rich members, such as the European Union, which have so far offered most of the concessions, albeit limited ones, would get little in return.

Brussels could have trouble convincing member states, such as France, the biggest beneficiary of EU farm spending, to surrender the right to subsidise its farmers' exports or to agree to tariff cuts without a quid pro quo from developing states in the way of more open industrial and services' markets.


"No one should be lulled into thinking that the negotiations, and our job of selling the results to our respective domestic constituencies, will be easier if we all just lower our sights," U.S. ambassador Peter Allgeier told the WTO recently. "It won't be easier."

With not even a minimal accord in the offing, the Doha round would be as good as dead even if the official verdict was that it had only gone into hibernation to await a fresh infusion of political will, sources say.

Hibernation could last years.

Past trade rounds have all dragged on way beyond their official target dates for conclusion. Doha's predecessor -- the Uruguay Round -- lasted over eight years.

But the difference this time is that U.S. presidential powers to negotiate free trade deals relatively free of congressional interference expire in the middle of next year and look unlikely to be renewed.

Without the so-called 'fast-track' powers, multilateral free trade negotiations become all but impossible. And given the protectionist mood in the United States and elsewhere, it could be another U.S. presidential election or two before Washington is once again in a position to negotiate seriously.

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Monday, May 15, 2006

Critics Plan Offensive as IMF-World Bank Crisis Deepens

Washington, DC, April 24.

The spring meetings of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund took place this weekend with police barricades ringing the two institutions at the heart of Washington, DC. There were almost no protesters in sight.

The action was indoors, a few blocks away, at the Institute for Policy Studies. There, the opposition was putting the final touches to a global campaign to “disempower” the two institutions. To the 70 activists from different parts of the world attending the two-day strategy meeting, the relative absence of street protests was deceptive. They knew that, in fact, the two institutions were in the midst of their most serious crisis in years, one that provided the opportunity for weakening their hold on the governance of the world economy.

Crisis of Legitimacy at the IMF

The crisis is more evident at the International Monetary Fund. The IMF never recovered from the Asian financial crisis in 1997, according to former IMF and World Bank official, Dennis de Tray, vice president of the Center for Global Development. “It lost its legitimacy then,” he said at a lunch forum sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Since the crisis, key Asian countries such as Thailand, Philippines, China, and India have refrained from new borrowings from the IMF, mindful of the consequences of disastrous financial liberalization programs that many Asian countries adopted at the behest of the Fund in the early 1990’s.

To the Asian countries’ reluctance to get into more debt with the Fund has now been added a conspicuous move among Latin American countries, led by Brazil and Argentina, to completely pay off their debts to the IMF in order to declare independence from an institution that is much hated in the region.

What is, in effect, a boycott by some of its biggest borrowers is creating a budgetary crisis owing to the fact that over the last two decades, the IMF’s operations have been increasingly funded from loan repayments by its developing country clients rather than contributions from the wealthy Northern governments, which deliberately shifted the burden of sustaining the institution to the borrowers. But with key client countries now ending their financial ties, where will the Fund get its resources?

Speaking at the same event as de Tray, Ngaire Woods, an Oxford University specialist on the IMF and World Bank, revealed that the IMF projects that payments of charges and interest to the organization would more than halve from US$3.19 billion in 2005 to US$1.39 billion in 2006 and halve again to US$635 million in 2009, creating what she described “a huge squeeze on the budget of the organization.”

Problems at the Bank

While it does not have the aura of controversy and failure that surrounds the IMF, the World Bank is also in crisis, say informed observers. A budget crisis is also overtaking the Bank, according to Woods: Income from borrowers’ fees and charges dropped from US$8.1 billion in 2001 to US$4.4 billion in 2004, while income from the Bank’s investments went from US$1.5 in 2001 to US$304 million in 2004. China, Indonesia Mexico, Brazil and many of the more advanced developing countries are going elsewhere for their loans.

The budgetary crisis is, however, only one aspect of overall crisis of the institution. The policy prescriptions offered by Bank economists is increasingly seen as irrelevant to the problems faced by developing countries, says de Tray, who served as the IMF’s resident officer in Hanoi and the World Bank’s representative in Jakarta. The problem, he said, lies in the emphasis at the Bank’s research department on producing “cutting edge” technical economic work geared to the western academic world rather than coming out with knowledge to support practical policy prescriptions. The Bank is currently staffed by some 10,000 professionals, most of them economists, and de Tray claims that “there is nothing wrong at the World Bank that a 40 per cent staff reduction would not fix.”

Woods supports de Tray, writing in a recent report that the “most common complaint in the field is that the Fund and Bank staff have no policy experience. Having completed doctorates in economics or finance, the staff are ill-equipped for the complex and messy work of the political systems in which they work.”

The disdain for politics that incapacitates many staff in dealing with the developing world is often coupled with a blind eyes to the fact that politics of a more consequential kind than complex developing country politics also influences the policy prescriptions of the Bank and the Fund. “Politics has always influenced the advice offered by the IMF and World Bank,” writes Wood. “South Korea’s first standby agreement with the IMF in 1997 was clearly decorated with conditions which had been added at the behest of the United States. In Russia through the 1990’s, political pressures in the G 7 pushed the Bank to make loans, which were never used (but for which Russia had to pay charges), and pushed the IMF to turn a blind eye to failures to meet its targets. World Bank projects are sometimes covertly shaped by preexisting agreements for contracts between large companies backed by powerful governments and borrowers.”

How to Hide a Crisis

One of those present at the meeting of non-governmental organizations at the Institute for Policy Studies was Robin Broad, an associate professor at American University. A long-time student of the World Bank whose book Unequal Alliance: the World Bank and the Philippines is regarded as a classic case study of the institution’s relations with its client countries, Broad claims that the World Bank is, in fact, in more of a crisis than the IMF but that this is less visible to the public.

“The IMF’s response has been to withdraw behind its four walls, thus reinforcing the public perception of its being besieged,” she notes. “The Bank’s response, however, has been to engage the world to hide its mounting crisis.”

She identifies three elements in the Bank’s offensive. “First, it goes out and tells donors that it is the institution best positioned to do lending to end poverty, for the environment, for addressing HIV-AIDS, you name it…when in fact its record proves that it’s not. Second, it has the world’s largest ‘development’ research department—funded to the tune of about $50 million—whose raison d’etre is to produce research to back up predetermined conclusions. Third, it has this huge external affairs department, with a budget of some $30 million—a PR unit that feeds these so-called objective research findings to the press and fosters the image of an all-knowing Bank..”

But, she concludes, “This can’t last. Inside the Bank, they know they’re in crisis and are scrambling. And sooner or later, if we do our work, the truth will come out.”

Reaction to New Initiatives

At the NGO meeting, people dismissed World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz’ much publicized anti-corruption campaign as another public relations stunt designed to shore up the Bank’s faltering legitimacy. “Talk about being hypocritical. He was the US ambassador to Indonesia in the mid-eighties, when corruption involving World Bank projects was rife, and he never did anything about it,” said Shalmali Guttal of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South. “About one out of every three dollars that the Bank gave Suharto government over a 30 year period from the mid-sixties to the mid-nineties went to the pockets of Suharto’s people. This came to about $10 billion of the $30 billion World Bank lending program. Wolfowitz, in fact, was known as a great friend of the Suharto regime.”

Deep skepticism also met the plan to increase the voting power of some the big developing countries, such as China and Brazil, and the announcement that a few more poor countries would be made eligible for debt reduction under the Bank-managed “Highly Indebted Poor Country Initiative” (HIPC). The latter was seen as a PR effort to shore up a faltering program while the former was seen as a desperate attempt to head off the move of many developing countries to move away from dependence on the two institutions.

End of Reform?

There was little talk at the meeting about reforming the Fund and the Bank’s lending and project policies, the preferred approach of many of the bigger international NGO’s in the nineties. Sameer Dossani, coordinator of the 50 Years is Enough! Campaign expressed the meeting’s doubts about the viability of a reformist approach: “We criticized structural adjustment programs, and they came up with PRSP’s [Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers]. We called for debt cancellation, and they came up with HIPC. With these initiatives now mired in failure, isn’t it time for another approach?”

With the deepening crisis of the two institutions, the critics sense an opportunity for putting in place a more radical strategy. “We’ve united around a strategy of disempowering the Bank and the Fund,” Lidy Nacpil of Jubilee South, a global coalition demanding debt cancellation, at the conclusion of the two-day meeting. Instead of attaching conditions to IMF and Bank operations in order to reduce their negative impacts, the new approach would identify the most vulnerable operations or divisions of the two institutions and wage global campaigns to shut them down with the strategic goal of eventually rendering the two institutions with radically reduced power and influence.

“It’s like cutting off the tentacles of an octopus,” Dossani said. “You start with the most vulnerable parts, then move on.”

Among two initiatives considered by the new campaign are international mass mobilizations at the time of the World Bank-IMF Fall Meeting in Singapore during the third week of September and an international conference on “Alternatives to the World Bank and the IMF” timed to coincide with the Fall meeting.

*Professor of Sociology at the University of the Philippines and Executive Director of the Bangkok-based Focus on the Global South.


It is now time to take on a more offensive approach against the butchers of humanity, IMF / World Bank. We have one more chance this year come September when the robots of machinery from IMF / World Bank convene in Singapore.

WE secured a NO DEAL in the December Ministerial Meeting last year.

WE can do it again.

WE can make a difference.

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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Pyeongtaek Protests against shifting of US Military Base in South Korea


About 4,000 South Korean protesters were prevented from proceeding to a rally by riot police in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, amid concern the demonstrations against the relocation of the U.S. military headquarters may turn violent and harm relations between the two countries.

About 19,000 riot police officers wielding batons and shields prevented the protesters, including farmers, students and labor union members, from accessing the site where the rally was scheduled to start at 10 a.m. Korea time in Pyeongtaek, 65 kilometers south of Seoul, an organizer and police said. The number of protesters had declined to about 2,500 in the afternoon, police said.

``We demand the government stop construction of the new base in the city, and map out the project from the beginning,'' You Young Jae, a spokesman of Pan-South Korean Solution Committee Against U.S. base extension in Pyeongtaek, said today in a phone interview. ``The government should scrap its earlier assignment of defense facility areas in the rice-farming city.''

Two protesters and two police officers were injured in clashes, Lee Song Jae, a spokesman at the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Agency, said by telephone. Thirty-two people were being held in police offices near Seoul as of 3 p.m. in connection with the protests, he said.

Clashes between the protesters and riot police were broadcast by YTN television news.

Resolve Differences

The protesters have said they are against the moving of the main U.S. military base from Seoul, which was agreed in 2003 between Korea and the U.S. and ratified by South Korea's parliament.

Prime Minister Han Myeong Sook urged citizens on May 12 to resolve their differences through dialogue. On May 4 when military engineers and medics moved in to secure the area for the military base and to begin erecting fences around the site, about 210 people, 117 policemen and 93 protesters were injured in clashes, JoongAng Daily said on May 5.

The U.S. has stationed troops in South Korea since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War to help defend the nation from possible attack from communist North Korea. The Korean War ended in a truce rather than a peace agreement.

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Monday, May 08, 2006

Philippines: Urgent Solidarity Action

Appeal for Justice for Peasant Organisers and Civilians Abducted and Falsely Accused

Dear friends,

We would like appeal to you, to your friends, networks and fellow advocates of human rights for your support to seek justice for the peasant organizers and their companions abducted, believed to be tortured, and are being falsely accused of rebellion by the Philippine military.

The five victims of human rights violations are:

* Riel Custodio,
peasant organiser of the organization "Kalipunan ng mga Magsasaka sa Kabite (Kamagsasaka-Ka or Farmers' Federation in Cavite)" in Cavite province, Philippines
* Axel Alejandro Pinpin, peasant organiser and works at the same organisation as victim No.1
* Enrico Ybanez, civilian, resident of Barangay Tolentino, Tagaytay City, south of Manila
* Michael Mesias, civilian, resident of Barangay Tolentino
* Aristides Sarmiento, civilian

Alex Alejandro Pinpin is an artist and the brother of Ms. Cyrine Pinpin, coordinator of Migrante Sectoral Party in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and at the same time, APMM coordinator in the said area. The parents of Pinpin are also migrant workers in Dubai.

To date, families of the victims are still not allowed to see them are not being informed in which military camp are the arrested being held.

We attach herewith a previous urgent appeal by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) to inform you of the events of the abduction, the succeeding efforts of families and human rights advocates to locate them, and the denial of the military that they have the victims in

The victims were only seen on a press conference by the military after more than 48 hours in their custody without any case filed against them.

We encourage you to take immediate actions on this matter.

We fervently hope that the spate of killings, forced disappearances and other human rights violations in the Philippines will soon stop and the perpetrators be brought to justice.

In solidarity,
Ramon Bultron
Managing Director

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