Dear Messrs. Wolfowitz and de Rato,
We are writing to express our dismay at the World Bank’s and IMF’s reaction to the Singaporean government’s ban on about 20 representatives from five NGOs from attending the upcoming Annual Meetings. We are also dismayed at your institution’s reactions to the pressure exerted by Singapore on the Indonesian authorities to prevent civil society activities on Batam island.
We understand that these steps by the Singaporean government violate the Memorandun of Understanding signed with the World Bank and the IMF concerning the organisation of the Annual Meetings, which includes a clause that the Bank and Fund have the right to accredit civil society groups. We note the statement issued by Bank officials and Mr. Wolfowitz’s short mention to the BBC, but are concerned that you, the Bretton Woods Institutions’ highest representatives, have not exerted sufficient pressure on the Singaporean government to withdraw its decision. This is a matter that deeply affects your credibility and that of your institutions.
The charges cited against the banned organisations — including “security and law and order considerations” — are extremely serious but completely unfounded. They may also cause reputational damage for the individuals and organisations involved. We deeply regret that the Bank and Fund have not addressed this issue and its implications in an appropriate manner.
We also consider outrageous that the Bank has not yet disclosed the list of all blacklisted individuals and organisations. This behaviour might put at risk the security of individuals who are considering travelling to Singapore and have not been properly informed.
The World Bank claims to be promoting good governance around the world. Ironically, the debate on how to implement new strategies to achieve this goal could take place in a few days in a police-state country, with significant sectors of global civil society absent because of the blacklist and
other intimidating measures by the host government. It is also ironic to choose a well-known offshore financial centre as a place to hold discussions about anti-corruption strategies.
The Bretton Woods institutions have lately decided to choose places hostile to civil society for those annual meetings taking place outside of Washington. The current situation is a clear consequence of this choice.
The undemocratic practices of the Singaporean government and its poor human rights record are well known. According to Amnesty International’s annual report Singapore imposes “serious restrictions on freedom of expression and assembly which inhibits peaceful civil society activity”. Despite this, the World Bank recently ranked Singapore as the most business-friendly economy in its “Doing Business” report. We ask the Bank to review this statement, also in the light of the evidence that Singapore operates as a tax haven and repository for funds of dubious provenance.
We and others will not participate in official meetings in Singapore under such circumstances.
We call on you to publicly denounce the Singaporean government for its recurrent breaches of its citizens’ human rights, and its violation of the memorandum of understanding signed with the Bretton Woods Institutions, a memorandum which should be made public as soon as possible. If the situation won’t change, the Bank and the Fund should seriously consider cancelling their official meetings in Singapore.
Looking forward to your prompt reply.