Civilities of a Civil Society

Saw this article on the Channel News Asia website and i really liked the part in bold & italics below:

(14/9 2006)

While some of their foreign counterparts are still up in arms over accreditation issues and the ban on outdoor protests, Singapore’s civil society groups are working with little fuss to get their messages through to the bigwigs in town for the IMF-World Bank meetings.

The Climate Change Organisation (CCO), for one, is putting forth a proposal calling for the setting up of an international environmental committee that will either be funded by the nations or get a cut of the world’s carbon trading market.

Yesterday, the World Bank confirmed arrangements for its founder Viki Esther Chang to speak to the panel after an official environmental seminar on Sunday.

Said Ms Chang: “Being a civil society, we are not some gangsters in the streets protesting. I don’t think stripping in front of a fast food restaurant will make people listen to you. Why should we go for shock value when there are civil ways of doing things?”

At press time, the World Bank is unable to provide the number of accredited activists from Singapore, but Today understands that some 43 Singapore civil society activists attended an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) briefing in July, with 10 groups eventually submitting proposals to the IMF-World Bank to host sessions during the Civil Society Forum.

Four organisations — the Singapore International Foundation (SIF), Tsao Foundation, World Vision International (Singapore) and IPS — were selected to host sessions at the forum, which runs concurrently with the IMF-World Bank meetings and seminars for the official delegates. Topics they would be tackling range from accountability in disaster relief work, social entrepreneurship to income support for the elderly.

SIF’s executive director Dr Tan Tay Keong hopes to raise the issue of accountability by sharing its experience in post-tsunami reconstruction and rehabilitation projects in Aceh and Sri Lanka.

Said Dr Tan: “Many events happen on the ground that makes accountability according to budget, timeline and specified deliverables difficult, if not impossible… My hope is that CSOs (Civil Society Organisations) will have the opportunity to learn from each other, instead of repeating each other’s mistakes.”

While not part of the official forum, a handful of groups including Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) would also hold side events that would be attended by foreign activists who are in town. TWC2 would be holding a forum next Monday to release its findings on the wages of migrant workers.

While Think Centre’s president Sinapan Samydorai felt that Singapore could take a leaf from the IMF and World Bank in being more “inclusive of people who disagree”, he called on civil society groups to engage the authorities constructively.

His organisation has been helping “seven or eight” foreign CSOs, who are fellow members of the Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development, by facilitating their travel arrangements and managing their expectations.

“We have told them at least two months before that outdoor demonstrations are unlikely to be approved here and encouraged them to hold more indoor discussions,” he said.

Some think, however, that the networking chances the events provide are more invaluable than the discussions per se.

Said Ms Tan Joo Hymn- the president of the Association of Women for Action and Research: “The Government has denied entry to several dialogue participants. The World Bank and IMF are also not known to be particularly receptive to different opinions – they may have dialogues but nothing ever gets implemented.

“We are approaching this more with curiosity than anything else as we don’t have high hopes that there would be any changes resulting from this. It is an especially great opportunity for the CSOs to network, not so much to achieve anything.” – TODAY

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September 2006