29 July 2006

Singapore Says No

As we know, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are soon coming to town for their annual meeting.

The IMF oversees the global financial system and aims to maintain financial stability, facilitate international trade and promote sustainable economic growth. The World Bank lends money to countries for purposes of economic development and poverty reduction, and aims to encourage international investment.

They have their fair share of critics. For example, the World Bank is often said to undermines the national sovereignty of recipient countries through various programs that pursue economic liberalization and de-emphasize the role of the state. Another criticism is that the World Bank is under the heavy political influence of countries such as the US which use the World Bank to advance their own interests.

Demonstrations and protests are therefore a regular feature at World Bank/IMF conferences. However, demonstrations and protests are definitely not a regular feature in Singapore, where the gathering of even five persons can constitute an "unlawful assembly" under the law.

So what's going to happen in September?
ST July 29, 2006
No outdoor demos for World Bank, IMF meets, say police
But those who want to engage the two organisations can do so in secure, private area at Suntec City

By Tanya Fong

OUTDOOR demonstrations and processions will not be allowed during September's International Monetary Fund and World Bank annual meetings, the police said yesterday.

But in keeping with the tradition of these meetings, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) who want to engage the two organisations will be allowed to do so, but only in a private, secured area set aside for them at the Suntec City venue.

Issuing their public order guidelines for the meetings yesterday, the police said demonstrations are already banned by Singapore law, which cannot be changed to accommodate the meeting.

Securing the country against terrorist attacks and protecting residents, conference delegates and visitors, they said, must take priority.

Singapore Police Force chief-of-staff, Senior Assistant Commissioner Soh Wai Wah, said: 'We are talking about a high security period, and we do not want to create opportunities terrorists can exploit, which can then compromise our security.

'The threat of a terrorist incident is a real one, and requires Singapore to take all necessary and effective measures to safeguard the meeting.'

That means accredited CSOs will only be permitted to express their views inside the convention venue, in a special area on Level 1 of the Suntec Convention Centre. Even then, they must stick to the police rules, which include bans on wooden or metal poles to hold up placards.
Little in the above excerpt will surprise any Singaporean, who would be well aware of the government's strict stance on law-&-order issues.

The "terrorist" argument is a minor new twist, and a clever one to make the Singapore government's stance more palatable to foreigners. Of course, Singaporeans know that even if 9/11 had never happened at all and terrorism is not a global threat today, the Singapore government will still find some other reason to disallow IMF/World Bank demonstrations here.

The next part of the article will however surprise some Singaporeans:
Last night, in response to queries from The Straits Times, the World Bank's Singapore representative, Mr Peter Stephens, indicated that the global body might want to explore alternative arrangements with the Government.

'While we recognise the desire of the Government to provide space for civil society within the conference precinct, we believe that other options could give civil society representatives more space and more opportunity to express their views, without violating Singapore laws,' Mr Stephens wrote.

'Effective inclusion of the voices of civil society is key to ensuring that their Annual Meetings are a success'.
The concept will be rather radical to many Singaporeans. Here is a World Bank representative saying that he wants to see anti-World Bank protests take place. Why? Because he thinks that "effective inclusion of the voices of civil society is key to ensuring that World Bank/IMF meetings are a success".

In contrast, imagine the Minister for Home Affairs saying that these four little SDP protestors should be allowed to stage a peaceful protest in Robinson Road because "effective inclusion of the voices of civil society is key to ensuring the accountability of Singapore's public institutions".

Gasp. Civil society? And voices? No, we can't imagine it. Not even jokes are allowed in Singapore. The whole idea is as inconceivable as the PAP admitting that more Opposition MPs in Parliament might be key to ensuring that new government policies are properly scrutinised, debated and discussed before implementation.
Singapore will host the event between Sept 12 and 20 at the Singapore International Convention and Exhibition Centre in Suntec City.

About 16,000 foreign delegates from 184 countries are expected to turn up for the event.

The entire police force will be mobilised to secure the area, and an additional 23,000 Police National Servicemen will be on stand-by.

A round-the-clock police ground presence will be enhanced by aerial surveillance by the Ministry of Defence. Stringent checks will be made at all immigration checkpoints.

Said SAC Soh: 'We work with agencies all over the world and we will be ready to handle any troublemakers who come to Singapore.'
In other countries, such people are called "activists". They may campaign for a wide variety of different reasons. For example, to end wars. To promote women's rights. To save the rainforests. For greater transparency in public institutions. Or against human rights abuses and the torture of Iraqi prisoners-of-war.


In Singapore, they're just known generically as "troublemakers".

Technorati: ; ; .

Past Musings: Possible Ways To Hold A Legal Demonstration in Singapore Without A Licence


Anonymous said...

The Chinese papers mentioned that two SDP members have applied for license to demostrate but police have not responded.

Interesting that the English Press did not cover this fact.

Joseph Chiang said...

'Terrorists'. This has become a very convenient excuse for anything the government don't like. Now I know who are the real terrorists.

Anonymous said...

Mr Wang

Actually, our authorities are using a "tried and tested" formula which they used for the WTO's 1st ministerial conference which Singapore hosted in 1998.

For that international event, the official proceedings were held at Suntec while the so-called protestors or "trouble-makers" were given a banquet room in the Raffles City Convention Centre to do their rantings and protests. The idea was: go ahead and have your protests but it must be done indoors and out of sight of the Singapore PUBLIC. And most importantly, those "silly Ang-mos" can do what they want but Singies must NOT be involved.

The same formula is now being used again this September.

But something tells me (call it intuition) that this time round, the protests are likely to spill out. In this respect, the manner in which our authorities respond will be just as important for our image as how efficiently we service the meeting.

Anonymous said...

joe - google FUD. :)

le radical galoisien said...

" the police said demonstrations are already banned by Singapore law, which cannot be changed to accommodate the meeting."

Oh, so now "permit required" to entirely illegal, is it?

le radical galoisien said...

If things become ugly, then I have hope - that people are willing to take risks for Singaproe.

I'm not sure how many of us would be able to overcome our timidity, but if I were in Singapore now, there might be a few things I'd be willing to do.

le radical galoisien said...

Some more additions...

Terrorism isn't even a global threat. Terrorism has been around for decades. It's a threat to Iraq, etc. but only a mild threat currently to us.

I also think there are way more arguments against the WB and the IMF. Possibly the WTO.

For example the international establishment usually requires a ban on narcotics, even mild ones like cannabis/marijuana, while allowing trade on tobacco.

This is despite the fact that one can addicted to tobacco, but not to cannabis; one can die from tobacco, but not from cannabis; and tobacco is more dangerous in every way. There's the "gateway drug" argument but that's really corporate propaganda.

The reason is that tobacco is a trade dominated by United States corporations; marijuana isn't. Obviously the US-favouring world economic establishments can't allow threats to the US monopoly on legal recreational drugs.

If one bans tobacco, one is lambasted as undermining free trade and economic freedom, but if one allows marijuana, one is accosted of encouraging decadence, terrorism and every other vice in the world.

This is probably more of a grievance with the WTO than the WB/IMF - but often people don't know how entrenched these economic establishments are. They are the very collective personifications of globalism, as opposed to the more reformative alter-globalism.

Anonymous said...

Can someone enlighten me as to why terrorists would specially target protesters?

Anonymous said...

'Terrorism' is just a strawman excuse to curb free speech and free rights (eg. freedom of assembly) without losing the oh-so-precious face when the visitors arrive in September.

In Singapore, basically it works like this:

1) make protests and street demonstrations, and even public speeches, next to impossible to happen.

2) the fact there are no protests is established as a fact and a norm.

3) which cunningly translates to, or implied as: there is NO NEED to protest at all, because Singaporeans are happy with their lives...

4) Which ultimately, indirectly praises the PAP government for doing such a 'fantastic' job. More million dollar salaries. More good years. It's all justified and good. Yipee.

Anti-IMF/WB type activists know what they are fighting for. Korean farmers have killed themselves in protest during previous demonstrations. Don't mess with them.

Let's see how the whole charade goes in September.

P.S: Fuck the 4 million smiles. Good day.

Anonymous said...

Govt, do i have to smile and provide good service to these pesky foreign troublemakers huh? Afterall they are visitors to Singapore leh. Or I just need to reserve my best standards to those wearing expensive suits and ties??


palmist said...

actually what is so good about protest or gatherings? I personally don't want any protest in singapore and I would rather they send all those protesters back home.

le radical galoisien said...

it's part of freedom of expression. It is an inalienable right.

You don't want your fellow citizens of the world to speak up?

I hope you know, these protestors are fighting for you, for me, for all of us, from the rampages of corporate globalism.

Whispers from the heart said...

Palmist is wrong. Singapore wants those protesters.

Every tourist dollar counts, when your next decade of growth depends on idiots coming to our shores.

If we are going to welcome gamblers and the whole lot of unsavoury characters that follows, how's a few protester going to hurt???

I would salute Wong Kan Seng if he could make these protestors smile inside those four walls of the Suntec City level one.

Maybe we could resort to 'buy' methods since we can't 'fix' them. Treat them to abalone congee and sharksfin. Bring them to Sentosa for a day trip or bring the Crazy Horse revue show to them. Better still, divert them to a tea-party at the Istana! Our ceremonial president can easily take care of such people. He is very good at the Greet, smile and thank routine.

If all fails, offer to upgrade their hotel rooms for their stay!

Anonymous said...

Aiyah, we might as well have restricted protests to a private and secure website - yes, an online protest. Just type in all your grouses, and the Singapore government will see to it that the messages are duly forwarded to the organisers!

I can see we're going to be very popular with all manner of rich international and multinational organisations who want to meet behind closed doors. Hey, what about the G8 summit too? And while we're at it , we might as well as set up a retirement village haven for former dictators too.

Anonymous said...

Hey, at least they are getting air-conditioning and away from the heat, humidity and grime that is in our city.

Anonymous said...

One day all of us may become crazy with PAP propanganda. It looks like we are half way down the road with the media treating us like mental retards.

Anonymous said...

Well, when the IMF/World Bank announced that all NGOs have until 3 Aug to register for the chance to demonstrate in Singapore, I thought it would be interesting to see what would happen if organisations like Think Centre, PLU, opposition parties, or even foreign maids and study mommas are to register.

Even more interesting --

What would happen if an anti-dealth penalty group wants to protest in Singapore?

Or what would happen if a group of Aussies or Nigerians are to request for space to protest against the recent hanging of their citizens?

Or a group of Burmese dissidents who asked to protest the economic links between the Singapore government and the Myanmamr government?

Or some NGO is to protest on the lack of press freedom in Singapore?

Or -- even more interesting -- if a group of foreign journalists or NGO applies to protest against China's detention of Straits Time journalists Ching Cheong (in Singapore's home turf!!)?

Interesting if they are to happen......

Anonymous said...

This has got me going.

It would be very apparant to foreign journalists to see the lack of space given to NGOs if the meeting is "too quiet".

It would almost be like the Twilight Zone.

This simple fact can't be lost to the government. It would actually make the whole event look bad for the Singapore government.

To control the damage, if I am the government, this is want I would do:

(1) Allow some token big name foreign groups to stage some highly visible but controllable protests, and then later claim "see, we allow freedom of speech!".

(an example is the speaker's corner -- "See! Where got no freedom of speech? We have speaker's corner!")

I would put the "Society to Save the Alaskan Pickle Winkle Flower" as the flagship NGO in Singapore.

(2) Control the spin. Try flooding the newsfeed with more desireable news and diverting attention from protests and demonstrations.

(a recent example is the recent household income survey. Stress how the AVERAGE household income has risen -- thanks to sound government policies -- and downplay the widening income gap between rich and poor ("oh, the bottom one third are mainly retirees"). Add a liberal dose of newspeak, like "structural unemployment" to make things sound more palatable.)

I would flood the newsfeed with human interest stories like our 4 million smiles campaign.

(3) Control access by foreign journalists to demonstrators . Allow demonstrators to protest in a closed and controlled environment and simply stop issuing passes to all foreign journalists who wants to cover the demonstrations.

To provide news coverage, allow only local journalist to attend them and generate the newsfeed for foreign journalists. That way, the "correct" interpretation of events would be given. Or simply just give a very very very very short media exposure to the protesters. Or another way is to lump the coverage with other "bigger" news and mention them with superficial analysis or lame editorials.

To defend against accusation of censorship, the local media can say, "well, we did provide coverage, right? See, it is in that 3 second slot CNA! But the actual IMF/World bank meeting is the bigger news and not some save-the-whales groups, so of course we give less newspaper space and airtime to the protesters! BTW, did you see the special on our 4 million smiles campaign?"

(an example would the coverage of the opposition rallies on GE2006. Lump pictures and comments of big opposition rallies turnout as part of another story, instead of the huge rallies being the main story. Also, post stories to downplay the huge turnouts, like depreciating comments from the PM's son. Better yet, wait a few days after the start of the rallies before you even mention them. The crowds may, you know...... "go away"...... and the event would no longer be newsworthy.)

(4) Control the official newscenter. Control what is going to go in there and what is going to come out.

A lot of journalists depends on the newscenter to give them the news. They also file their reports via the newscenter.

When all else fails, do what the Malaysian government did when they hosted the Commonwealth Games while there were street protests in KL over the sacking of Anwar Abrahim: censor the foreign newsfeed and ban any mention of protests and demonstrations.

At one point (maybe more than once....), the Malaysian government simply stop all transmission from the Games' newscenter.

Oh, do I hear someone say "internet"? Well..... not all journalists are that motivated and diligent to go out and find the real story and bypass the feed from newscenter. Besides, I am quite sure there are rules for accredited journalists entering Singapore to agree to file reports only via the newscenter. Otherwise, don't issue them with a press pass.

Anonymous said...

OK, I am spending WAYYYYYY too much time on this.

To be fair, the main purpose of Singapore 2006 is to showcase what Singapore has to offer as a MICE destination.

In this sense, it would do to have a repeat of Seattle a few years back and make the government look like incompetent idiots.

So some sort of management and control is needed.

Of course, if our government can showcase our expertise and NOT make themselves look like some third world despot, that would be even better.

On this last point, have a read on Hillary Clinton's autobiography and her recollection on the events of her attendence of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in China in 1995.

China, adopting a strategy basically pretty much like Singapore today, simply banned local NGOs and foreign "undesirables" from the conference. To allow for some semblance of free speech, it arranged for the NGOs to hold their traditional alternative conference that is far away from the main event (in another rural town as I remembered) and very inaccessible (bad roads, poor accomodations etc).

Hillary's book traces how she attended the conference for NGOs, met with them and drew media attention to the NGOs. Well..... China couldn't possibly ban the First Lady, could they?

She also made a speech that contained parts about freedom of speech and freedom for women to control their own fertility that embarassed the host country China and which was heavily censored in the local press.

Have a look.


Also, have a look at these links. There are information there that gives you an idea what China did to hinder the NGOs from organising their alternative conference.

http://www.tibetjustice.org/materials/ep/ep8.html (see paragraph I and 10)

Not the best links, but the event was 11 years ago. You have to read Hillary's book to understand it better.

It gives you a fuzzy feeling when Singapore and China have so much in common, no?

Anonymous said...

Interestingly, I actually find the movie V for Vendetta might be able to answer some of the 'questions' being asked here. :P

Anyway it is definitely a tragic if a demonstration turns violence. However, I believe many Sinkaporeans are simply too ignorant and kiasee and presume that demonstration is nothing but only trouble-making. Demonstration is so rare here and after watching so many violent demonstrations on the news, they simply do not realize there is a thing called peaceful demonstration too and the point about having demonstration is the people want to get their message heard by the public and the organizations. It is a sad phenomenon that even though we are supposedly a developed and democratic modern nation in the world, a lot of us are still having 3rd world peasants mentality, and have little understanding or what people power and freedom of expression really means and their importance in safeguarding and also enhancing our rights and humanity.

Many just took it that people power meant troublemakers who are ungrateful of the lee’s great ‘sacrifice’ (yeah, right. Look at what all the lees are achieving) in making Sinkapore what it is today and want to overthrown the already ‘good’ govt. And freedom of expression only meant people are asking to have freedom to defame and insult the Lees and MIW freely without any reprimand from the authority. Thus any demonstration or freedom of speech here is regarded as a sign of ungratefulness and being troublemaking. Hey, even some timid reporters questioning the old man on TV with only a tiny little very small bit of aggressiveness are considered a form of bad behavior by the ‘general population’ already.

le radical galoisien said...

I hope many of the delegates will be interested in meeting the other Singaporean - the one isn't just a yes-man.

Then the government will be presented with a dilemma - it would look bad to restrict the delegates.

Anonymous said...

Your worries are unfounded, the delegates would be very well protected from "rumors, lies, etc"

Civil servants, taxi drivers, service staffs had already attended courses, teaching them only to say good things about Singapore.

palmist said...

Everyone wants the right to speak but is protest the most effective way to convey a message? Do you seriously think that people holding some placard, milling around is going to make an impact? At the most just a curious peek from the passerby. Unless you create a ruckus I don't think you put any pressure on the delegates. They just go on with their business and do what they want to do. I certainly don't want any disorder, so spare me the peaceful protest too. It is not going to do anything. To me I would rather they find a more effective channels then to insist on the right to protest. Are people too focused on rights that they miss the goal of the exercise. I would rather they hold public meetings to address issues then to protest. Every system of governance has it's merits and down side.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Palmist, that's right. I'm sure peaceful protests will bring disorder to the streets... almost like another event that's happening somewhere in the second weekd of August. Ever wonder why there's so much pomp and circumstance for National Day?

In this case, the whole point of the exercise are the rights of the people protesting. Just because you perceive to not be feeling the ill effects of IMF and World Bank policies.

palmist said...

anon 1:28pm

I think you missed my point. I don't know why you want to compare a celebration with a protest. Well, of course everyone one can turn up in brown shirt and let the shirt speak to the lofty ministers, it would roughly have the same effect. Actually that would be quite a sight a sea of brown drowning the man in white.

I am not against free speech but I think free speech has limits. What is the purpose of the protest. To me it is to change the minds of the people in the meeting. Unless it is threatening enough for those people inside the cosy meeting rooms it is not going to be much of an impact. If you've noticed I've suggested public meetings to bring the message across about the evils of world bank and their minions. There are many ways to communicate something. I really like to know how effective is a group people moving around marching up and down. I choose to evaluated the effectiveness of the process and not focused on the rights. I agree that I have no data to support that peaceful protest is ineffective but going but logical deduction it don't seem to be effective.

Just because I don't support protest does not mean that agree with the world bank or IMF policies. I've just suggested other ways to communicate the point across.

Anyway I am just a small fry. Thanks for the kopi talk and internet chatter. :)

Gilbert Koh aka Mr Wang said...

Well, let me give you some thoughts on how a public demonstration could be effective. This is a general discussion - not related to IMF/World Bank in particular.

A public demonstration can be effective because if it is large, it conveys to the relevant organisation some sense of the number of people who feel strongly enough about the issue to take the trouble to come and participate. For example, if NUS raises its school fees and 10 students demonstrate, then the NUS authorities may feel "Oh, the fee hikes were reasonable. In fact, maybe we should raise them even higher." However, if 10,000 NUS students demonstrate, this gives another kind of indication to NUS that it should rethink its fee hikes.

Secondly, public protests can have a "shaming" effect that pushes the relevant authorities into action. For example, suppose NKF had been exposed, but Singaporeans were extremely polite about it. They did not demonstrate; they did not protest (in one way or another); they merely wrote nice, private letters to NKF Chairman and said, "Oh, please Mr Durai, in future, would you install normal brass taps instead of gold=plated ones?". I think not much change would occur. It is because people show their strong emotions that helps the government to launch an inquiry; remove the chairman; get the PM into the picture; call in the auditors; review the Charities Act; get IRAS into the picture; and look into creating new regulations for all charities in Singapore. The public protest has a strong "shaming" effect because it is public.

Thirdly, a public protest is media fodder, especially a creatively organised one (eg with eye-catching placards). If I have a closed-room confidential discussion with a few officials, the media does not know about it. If I have a public demonstration, the media knows about it, reports it, and this raises public awareness of whatever issues I am demonstrating about - it then increases the probability that other organisations and individuals will come into the picture and help the cause, in one way or another.

I am not saying that the public demonstration is the superior form of making a point. I think that it depends on the circumstances. But I definitely don't see that it is necessarily an inferior form of making a point.

All forms of making a point - including blogging; podcasts; writing to the newspaper; private meetings with the relevant authorities; holding seminars; setting up a website; appearing on TV; appearing on a radio talkshow; writing a book; circulating an email; going to see your MP; boycotting a product; composing ands performing a song; making a customer's complaint; imposing sanctions; making a satirical movie; using a mediator; going to court; staging a play; holding a labour strikes; exercising a vote -

have their relative advantages and disadvantages. Furthermore they are not mutually exclusive - you could, for example, have your public demonstration AND your closed door meeting.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
palmist said...

I personally think that disruption is the key to the game. If the negotiators don't perceive the threat they would just go on with their agenda. The question is how big a distruption is enough to make them wake up their ideas. So far the HK protest has managed to stall/delay the decision.(correct me if I am wrong, I am not an avid news reader). It hasn't reached the threshold where it flips in favour of the protesters. 2 questions comes into my mind. 1) is it enough to change the WB and IMF's mind with just peaceful protest. 2)Is the disruption worth the while for singapore.

I am thinking in terms of yes and no. Maybe it is a graduated response and the little edge given by protest on top of other activities might just tip the balance.

I do recognise that they are not mutually exclusive. I proposed public meeting in favour of protest because I feel protest has to be disruptive to be effective. I guess it is mainly assumption on my part. Maybe someone can enlighten me by citing examples of
peaceful protest having profound effects.

Looking from another perspective, Singapore can position themselves to be a protest free place to hold meetings and let others spend their money here. Whether we are in bed with the evil capitalist is another question. We are just here to provide a service much like how swiss banks do not question their clients integrity. Of couse some singaporeans would loathe the idea of being silenced. I am still ok with the level of freedom in singapore.

Anonymous said...

hehe ,,,invite those demonstrator to an luxury 120 coourse buffet like close door 4 wall exibition hall.if not enough,'upgrade'watever the goverment can think of.dispense $$$ to the protester or the internetional pressmen if insufficient so they will compliment us ..haha//singapore ve done very well.....blah bjah

Anonymous said...

If we measure everything with its economic value ie disruption to our daily schedule of making more money, or that it is not effective and worthwhile, then we can all agree that Kausikan should put all those 'old and won't conveniently die off' types to permanent sleep.

Actually, I think we should also save all those monies on silly campaigns that don't seem very effective and cause a disruption to my TV viewing when their adverts are aired, like the Speak English campaign, speak Mandarin campaign and the don't know what smiley campaign.

What's wrong with just letting others have a say in issues dear to them? Those people milling around with plycards just want their opinions heard. Oh sure, only Singaporeans believe that your suggestin to the feedback unit is really dicussed at the Cabinet meetings hah? or that a nobody like us can call PMO to arrange a closed door meeting with PM?

Please lah, he is damn busy with 2 opposition already. We certainly don't want him to break down and cry.