TWN Info on Finance and Development (Oct06/06)
3 October 2006
Civil society organizations (CSOs) walked out of an open meeting here with World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz and International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director Rodrigo de Rato after the heads of the Bretton Woods institutions failed to provide a satisfactory response to concerns raised on the issue of civil society access at the Bank and Fund annual meetings.
The walkout followed the actions of the Singaporean authorities in denying entry to representatives of civil society organisations into the country during run-up to the annual meetings of the Bretton Woods institutions held in the city state from 19 - 20 September 2006.
CSOs were unhappy with the Bank and Fund's lukewarm response to the issue of denial of access and treatment of civil society representatives by Singaporean immigration officials.
Below is an eyewitness account of the public walkout with a report on the issue of CSO access and participation at the Singapore meetings. It was published in the SUNS #6100 Monday 18 September 2006.
With best wishes,
CSOs walk out of meeting with Fund/Bank chiefs
By TWN, 15 Septmber
The CSO representatives also staged a 'silent' protest at the designated 'protest' site at the Suntec Convention Centre where the Annual Meetings are being held.
The protests and walkout on Friday 15 September follows the deportation of representatives of several civil society organizations by the Singaporean authorities and detention and questioning of several others, for up to six hours, by immigration officials at Singapore's Changi airport over the past three days.
These actions of the Singapore authorities is in addition to Singaporean's banning of some 27 individuals from 20 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) from the city state during the period of the annual meetings held here. The banned individuals include those who have been accredited by the World Bank and the IMF to attend the meetings and the official civil society forum held within the conference centre.
A number of those detained and questioned also include those who have been duly accredited. An accredited Italian journalist has also been banned from the country and a Singaporean NGO representative has had her accreditation revoked.
Civil society groups were unhappy with the Bank and Fund's lukewarm response to the issue of denial of access and treatment of civil society representatives by Singaporean immigration officials. Both Wolfowitz and De Rato have acknowledged that these acts of Singapore are in clear violation of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two institutions and Singapore as the host of the 2006 Annual Meetings, branded here as 'Singapore 2006'.
However, civil society groups are frustrated that despite these statements by the heads of the Bretton Woods institutions that Singapore was in breach of the host country agreement, the Bank and the Fund have not committed to further action beyond verbal denouncements of Singapore's actions. While the official meetings begin on 19 September, civil society representatives have started arriving for the civil society events and forums traditionally held in the week preceding Bank and Fund meetings.
The Town-hall meeting, a regular event at Bank and Fund meetings at which the Bank President and IMF Managing Director meet and dialogue with civil society, took place this afternoon at the convention centre and was also attended by other delegates and the media.
In opening the meeting, chair John O'Callaghan from the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) noted that the current pressing concerns of civil society were centred upon this issue of access and asked for that issue to be the first order of the meeting.
After the initial presentations by Wolfowitz and De Rato who also both alluded to the denial of access as casting a shadow over the Annual Meetings, Roberto Bissio, director of Social Watch, took the floor and denounced the Singapore blacklist of civil society organizations and individuals and journalists, the deportations and arbitrary lengthy detentions by immigration authorities and the revocation of accreditations.
Bissio, who had arrived in Singapore yesterday evening with an NGO representative who has been served with deportation orders and another who was questioned for more than an hour at the airport, highlighted the plight of these individuals who were subject to such treatment by the authorities.
Speaking on behalf of a number of NGOs present in the room, he demanded that the World Bank and the IMF commit to more than just a mere expression of 'regret' of the host country's actions to resolve the issue of access and treatment of civil society representatives.
In response, Wolfowitz called those restrictions "authoritarian" and "unacceptable". He added that the actions were "a violation of the host country agreement" and that he and De Rato had raised the issue with the Singaporean Prime Minister and the President and asked them to cooperate with the institutions to resolve the issue.
Wolfowitz said: "We have said that this goes beyond the issue of local laws. Enormous damage has been done to Singapore and this is self-inflicted. This is a violation of our memorandum of understanding and we are saying this very strongly."
He said that he was disappointed that Singapore had not adopted a more "visionary approach" to the participation of civil society at the meetings.
De Rato also considered the current developments as "a very serious issue" and said that while they thanked the Singaporean people for their hospitality, the denial of access to accredited organizations and civil society groups cast a pall over the proceedings of the Annual Meetings.
He said that the IMF considered the participation of civil society organizations as important and integral to the work of the institution and that "people who have been accredited by us, we consider them as working with us".
De Rato added that he had no doubt that the accredited representatives would respect the local laws of Singapore and therefore, the authorities were making a mistake in denying them access to the meetings.
However, when pressed by Bissio on what further measures the Bank and the Fund will take to ensure respect for the host country agreement and the integrity of the 2006 Annual Meetings as a whole, both Wolfowitz and De Rato did not elaborate further beyond their earlier expressions of regret and offers to intervene in individual cases of accredited representatives who have been detained or banned.
Bissio then argued that this went beyond individual cases and insisted that the obligations under host country agreements must be respected, as these agreements are the pillar of inter-governmental and international meetings and that these meetings cannot function without such fundamental guarantees of access to all delegates.
He then cited as precedents - occasions when inter-governmental meetings have been suspended and shifted to other locations for violations of duties of the host country and asked if the Bank and the Fund would consider a similar move with regard to the 2006 Annual Meetings.
Wolfowitz and De Rato, while acknowledging that this was "a good point", said that this proposition was unworkable in this instance and that the meetings would proceed as planned in spite of these bans, deportations and detentions.
At this point, the NGO representatives got up and filed out of the meeting in protest.
Civil society groups had been denouncing the denial of access of accredited individuals to the Annual Meetings and have stressed repeatedly that the World Bank and the IMF share equal responsibility for the Singapore government's actions, as the institutions agreed to host the meetings in the city state renowned for its strict restrictions on free speech and public protest, in spite of concerns raised by civil society on this issue.
A large number of NGOs have also launched a boycott of the official civil society events at the meetings in protest of these restrictions and in solidarity with banned and deported colleagues.
At the time of going to press, the 'Singapore 2006' Organizing Committee has released a statement that following a review of the list of 27 banned individuals, they have decided "to allow the entry of 22 of the 27 CSO representatives" but this has come too late for those who have already been deported or who have not travelled here due to the blacklist.
This review also does not guarantee access to some representatives who may not be formally accredited to the institutions for different reasons, including those who may have submitted their applications for accreditation late or those who are coming to participate in non-accredited events organized outside the conference centre.
In reversing some of the bans on CSOs, and allowing 22 of the 27 who were earlier refused entry, the host country Organising Committee said that the World Bank and the IMF have been informed that "if the remaining five CSO representatives were to attempt to enter Singapore, they will be subject to interview and may not be allowed in". It is not known which five individuals remain on this 'blacklist' as names were not revealed.
Meanwhile, an ActionAid Brazil representative, Maria Clara Couto Soares, who had arrived in Singapore Thursday evening on a connecting flight from Paris had been served with deportation orders after being questioned for many hours and detained in a detention room at the airport and is awaiting deportation on the next flight to Brazil. Ms Soares, who is not formally accredited but has worked for ActionAid for three years, was served these orders in spite of intercession by the Brazilian embassy here, according to NGO sources. A reversal of this decision appears unlikely as Ms Soares does not have official Bank and Fund accreditation. A further three Action Aid representatives, all accredited, have also been subject to detention and questioning for periods ranging from two to six hours at the airport.
Social Watch director Roberto Bissio, who denounced these actions by the Singaporean authorities at the aforementioned meeting with Wolfowitz and De Rato this afternoon, had arrived with Ms Soares on the same flight yesterday along with Iara Pietricovsky from INESC Brazil. In spite of having accreditation to the Annual Meetings, Ms Pietricovsky was also detained and questioned by authorities for more than an hour at the airport.
Another representative of Social Watch, Filipino academic Filomena Santa Maria, was also held and questioned for six hours at the airport. Ironically, Santa Maria was in Singapore earlier this year to participate in the official organizing process, organized by the World Bank, the IMF and the Singaporean government, for civil society participation at these very meetings.