Wednesday, September 13, 2006

IMF/WB Meetings in Singapore

Wednesday 14th September 2006, marks the start of the much anticipated International Monetary Fund / World Bank meetings. In a nutshell,
"The meetings include two days of plenary sessions, during which governors consult one another and address the assembly to present their countries' views on current economic and financial issues. The boards of governors make decisions on how current international monetary issues should be addressed and approve corresponding resolutions."

The IMF has been very prominent in the recent Asian financial crisis, the Brazilian 30 billion USD rescue package and various other financial help worldwide. These meetings are not simply restricted to policy makers. It has an extremely wide economic impact worldwide. (For example, when the IMF approved a multi-billion dollar aid to Indonesia, one of the requirements was the government reduce subsidy on oil for the local Indonesian consumer. That resulted in overall rise in living costs for Indonesians.)

It is easy to point a finger at policies. But those of us who understand the complexities of culture will also understand that it is one thing to make a policy based on statistics within a comfortable air-conditioned, climate controlled closed door office. It is yet another to walk the streets of poverty and feel with the hands the hardship of people living in poor economies. How then do they come up with a policy that incorporates compassion and shrewd economic planning?

OPTION A - Policy Makers alone
OPTION B - Policy Makers + Civil Society groups (CSGs) input

The Singapore meeting more closely resemble Option A now. It has banned many activists from even entering the country. They see them as troublemakers. Option B is perhaps something closer to what we would say 'fair representation of views' necessary for good policy making. As a result of Singapore's efficient bans, CSGs are essentially muted or controlled. Many organizations have called for a boycott. Even Christian Aid organisation has called for a boycott of the Singapore meetings. My feel is that with the Singapore government's banning of prominent CSGs, it will be a long time (if ever), any future IMF events will be held in Singapore. Just like the University of Warwick (prominent University in the UK) which finally decided not to have a campus in Singapore due to restrictions on press freedom, will the IMF/WB and activists ban Singapore in future, as a host for IMF meetings?

If so, this will be a sad situation as Singapore wants to promote immigration into the country and to attract foreign talent. Attracting international talent would meant learning to be open to the international rules of engagement. Singapore's reputed draconian controls need to be relaxed for the sake of future competitiveness of the country. Perhaps for the sake of future survival too.

It is one thing for Singapore to apply domestic methods on domestic affairs. It is yet another to apply such rules to international gatherings. Hopefully, the future leadership of Singapore will be more open to different expressions. Until that happens, the best way to live in Singapore is to be quiet, submissive and obedient.


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