Sunday, September 17, 2006

Since Singapore Has Softened...

Considering Singapore can be pushed to allowing 22 of the activists into the country. Isn't it time for them and IMF / WB to review the protest site allocated for activists?

The current site is a sad spot 15m away from where the delegates will be passing through to their meetings.

As a show of their sincerity in welcoming the activists, we should now urge IMF / WB and Singapore to change the protest site to one where the attention of the delegates can be easily sought.


Singapore Protest Poser

It's a three-way fight at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings.

In one corner sit the suits of IMF and World Bank. In the other are the representatives of the civil society organisations (CSO). Without suits, of course.

Smack in the middle is Singapore.

The World Bank/IMF and CSOs may not be natural enemies, but they're not the best of friends either.

While the World Bank and IMF may be saying free trade (open your markets), the CSOs are shouting fair trade (protect our markets).

But they agree on one point - the right of entry for 27 activists.

The CSOs want them here. The IMF and World Bank are making a show that they don't think the 27 should be disallowed entry.

And as of last night, 22 of the 27 will be allowed to attend the meeting after all, said Singapore 2006, the organising committee.

What has that got to do with you then?

In this clash, Singapore seems to have taken the sucker punch. It has been singled out by the World Bank president, Mr Paul Wolfowitz.

He blames the Republic, saying it's reneging on promises made in a signed agreement.

Singapore 2006 says the Republic is carrying out its duty - to protect life and property.

All well and good, said the CSOs. But what's the solution?

Yesterday, about 30 representatives of The Global Call to Action against Poverty (GCAP), an anti-poverty movement, staged a silent protest at the designated site.

They then rushed for a meeting with the World Bank and IMF. The first thing the World Bank wanted discussed - those 27 activists.

Once again, Mr Wolfowitz let fly at the Republic. His tone was palpable - don't blame me, blame Singapore.

Why pick Singapore as the site for the meeting then, the CSO representative asked.

Mr Wolfowitz's answer - he has been with the World Bank only for three years. The decision was made earlier.

Unhappy with his answer, the CSOs staged a walkout.

Ms Sandy Krawitz, communications manager for ActionAid International, a CSO, said: 'We're walking out because he's just shifting blame. Yes, he wasn't there three years ago because he was war-mongering in Iraq.

'But he has had three years to change the venue if he was interested. He's just paying us lip service.'

The CSOs' anger appear to be directed at the IMF and World Bank, and also at the Republic.

Said Ms Krawitz: 'We want a full apology from the World Bank, the IMF and then Singapore.'

One major issue has been the lack of opportunity for the CSOs to stage outdoor protests.

But the choice of location for the indoor site has also intrigued the CSOs.

Mr Luke Fletcher of Jubilee Australia (which looks into debt relief) said he heard about the change in protest sites.

The protesters would have been at the foot of the escalators at the Suntec Singapore convention lobby. That would have put them within touching distance of the bigwigs.

Picture the scene, said a CSO representative.

They could heckle the main delegates as they walk past to the escalators to get to the meetings.

Instead, the site turned out to be about 15m away, tucked behind a wall and away from the escalator.

All the CSOs get now is a fish-tank view of other delegates - not the central bank heads - as they clear security in a walled-up temporary office.

But this isn't the first time the CSOs have been given an indoor site because of local laws. In Dubai, in 2003, an air-conditioned tent was set up for protesters.

It was reported that only one man used it.

So some CSOs have decided to boycott the meetings in a show of solidarity.

But not all are happy with the boycott.

Mr Eric Gutierrez, 40, from ActionAid International said: 'We've spent more than a year preparing research reports to be presented at these meetings.

'With the boycott, our efforts will go to waste....'

Must there be a protest to get their point across?

Mr Gutierrez said: 'They (IMF and World Bank) see your evidence and they nod, but the next day, they forget all about it.

'So you have to try to speak louder or be more creative by having a protest.'

It doesn't always work.

In the 2000 meeting in Prague, Czech Republic, the police unleashed tear gas on protesters who swarmed the venue.

The meetings ended early.

More than 500 activists were accredited by the IMF-WB for this meeting.

Those The New Paper spoke to said they are not 'petty thugs' but academics with a different point of view.

Many of those who said a protest isn't always necessary declined to be named. It's not good to break solidarity.

Mr Gutierrez said: 'You can break it down to different conditions in different countries.

'In some countries, you can be heard better because you can have demonstrations.

'In other countries, it might be better to go to a room to have a face-to-face discussion.'

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