Saw this article on the Channel News Asia website today. I like what it says. 🙂
Title : Activists not convinced S’pore-bashing Paul Wolfowitz on their side
Date : 19 September 2006 1348 hrs (SST)
The irony is that he is normally the target, not the man on the high horse.
When World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz took it upon himself to champion the cause of the civil society organisations (CSOs) – by taking a swipe at Singapore – he did not convince too many activists that he was on their side. On the other hand, he has managed to irritate a number of Singaporeans.
When Singaporean authorities wanted to keep a number of activists at bay for the duration of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -World Bank meetings here, Mr Wolfowitz publicly termed the move “authoritarian”.
He went on to say that a lot of damage had been done to Singapore and that much of it was “self-inflicted”.
While a compromise of sorts has been struck on the activists issue, some Singaporeans are outraged by Mr Wolfowitz’s public comments.
Said Ms P L Tay, a manager in the tourism industry: “I found it rude and I feel very sad because the amount of preparations that we put in was humongous, be it retailers, the police, hoteliers or the airport staff. We literally closed down the country for you. You’re a guest and you can be diplomatic even if you are not happy about something.”
Echoing her sentiment was law graduate Siow Jia Rui, who felt that it would be naive to think that the IMF and World Bank officials were unaware of Singapore’s strict stance on protests.
He said: “The IMF and World Bank are in a position whereby they know their personal safety will not be in doubt and they look good when they say they want to engage the CSOs, but their hands are tied because, ‘Sorry, Singapore does not want to let them in’.”
The delegates are able to breathe easier this year because unlike at previous meetings, whereby they “get slammed left, right, centre”, a lot of CSOs are firing their salvos at Singapore, which takes some heat off the delegates, he argued.
According to local media reports, World Bank officials are said to be privately “very happy”with the arrangements by the S2006 organising committee for the meetings.
Some observers also found it hypocritical that the World Bank, which is now stressing its liberal image, had picked an unobtrusive site for the protests even though Singaporean authorities had offered it more prominent venues.
So was Mr Wolfowitz right to criticise Singapore?
Ms Sandy Krawitz of ActionAid International said bluntly: “When it comes to democracy, the World Bank and IMF are no experts.”
Describing Mr Wolfowitz as the “architect of the Iraq war three years ago” and touching on the controversy over his appointment to head the World Bank, as well as the anti-democratic manner that the IMF and World Bank hammers out economic policies for developing countries, Ms Krawitz argued that the two institutions knew exactly what they were getting into when Singapore was picked as a host venue in 2003.
Also, the two institutions should have started liaising with the Singapore authorities “way ahead” of this month’s meetings if they were keen on engaging the CSOs.
Added Ms Krawitz: “I think that when you point your finger at someone else, you’re pointing the other four back at yourself.”
Ms Shalmali Guttal from Focus on the Global South has reason to be bitter. She is one of the five activists who will not be allowed into Singapore. She would like an explanation for that.
Even so, she does not buy the World Bank’s efforts to ingratiate itself with the CSOs, when it is a target of much of their ire. Besides, she says she has nothing against Singaporeans.
“Singaporeans have been so nice,” concurred Ms Krawitz. “I really do understand the Four Million Smiles campaign.” – TODAY/ra