The latest development in what has been a most blatant display of repression and exclusion in the formulation of development policies around the globe: Singaporean authorities detained and questioned a member of the organizing committee of the officially-sanctioned Civil Society Forum at the International Monetary Fund-World Bank (IMF-WB) Meeting being held in Singapore this week and next.
Scholar-activist Filomeno Sta. Ana III, Coordinator of Action for Economic Reforms, a public interest organization in the Philippines, was detained by the Singaporean police at Changi Airport yesterday, September 14. Upon arrival in Singapore, Sta. Ana was whisked off to a van and escorted to an unspecified location that eventually turned out to be the Singapore police’s command control center at the said airport. The seemingly benign but obviously paranoid interrogation lasted for more than four and a half hours.
Sta. Ana had gone to Singapore for the IMF-WB Meeting as member of the ad hoc civil society group formed by the IMF and the WB as part of their effort to facilitate dialogue between policy-makers on one hand and stakeholders and concerned groups on the other. The group had worked tirelessly over several months to organize more than 40 policy dialogue sessions on topics ranging from trade to governance and social accountability and from infrastructure development to clean energy. Sta. Ana was even to be a speaker at a number of forums, particularly those on “Lessons Learned by the World Bank on Sustainable Development and Infrastructure” and “Regional Integration and Transboundary Issues in East Asia” to name a few.
Some dialogue session it has been. Over the past few days, the Singapore government has harassed, intimidated, detained, and banned members of various civil society and public interest organizations that had been previously accredited for participation by the IMF and WB. This has led to countless cancellations of what could have been meaningful forums and sessions in the IMF-WB Civil Society Forum, owing to the fact that many of the speakers and key participants in these sessions have been either banned from entering Singapore or detained at its border.
While the leadership of both the IMF and the WB have made efforts to wash their hands clean of these developments, with even notorious right-wing hawk and WB President Paul Wolfowitz reportedly criticizing the Singapore government’s decisions, in the eyes of those who know how these two international financial institutions work and behave, these efforts have been largely farcical and therefore futile. Consider for example this glaring coincidence: the organizations that have experienced particular difficulty from the Singapore government are precisely those that in the past have established themselves to be
effectual and credible voices of dissent and opposition against policies that the IMF and the WB are keen to prescribe. Furthermore, it is ludicrous to believe that the leadership of the IMF and WB are powerless in the face of the Singaporean government. Admittedly, the IMF and WB staff are indeed powerless in this situation. In fact, two members of the WB Manila office were themselves given the run-around as they were trying to locate where Mr. Sta. Ana was being held. However, it is difficult to picture, by any stretch of one’s imagination, that serious effort on the part of the heads of the IMF and WB, say Mr. Wolfowitz, to convince the Singapore government to lift the bans would be left unheeded. Finally, the IMF and the WB, along with other multilateral organizations like the World Trade Organization, have developed a penchant for holding their meetings in extremely inaccessible and even democracy-hostile territories like Qatar, Singapore, such that stakeholders and activists have found it difficult to attend much less participate in these said meetings. All these only give reinforcement to the observation of many that Mr. Wolfowitz’s so-called championing of democracy (even invoking democracy to justify the invasion of Iraq) and campaign for inclusive development, is selective at best; double-speak at worst.
The Singapore police have said that they will cane and arrest participants in illegal assemblies, which in Singapore could mean any grouping of more than four people. While many of those who have been interrogated and detained were eventually released and allowed to enter Singapore like Mr. Sta. Ana, it is clear that the democratic space for healthy disagreement and even honest dialogue has become far too restricted and cramped.
Ms. Janet Carandang
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