15 September 2006

Noisy when people throw stones at tinpots

Even the World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz has broken diplomatic silence to call Singapore "authoritarian", adding that "enormous damage has been done" to our reputation. Full essay.


Desmond Lim said...

It is fine that the foreigners think badly of Singapore because remember, I mean the spokesperson for the gahmen already said said, "I am not at all concerned at all about what the foreign media thinks (Second Minister for Information, Communications and the Arts, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan).

So the gahmen's stand is, we don't care what the world thinks about us. Just as long as we think we are okay. Then things are okay.

Strange isn't it, when we totally depend of other countries to live.

So typical of "say one thing, do another", that's our gahmen for you.

yuen said...

sit-ins promote democracy!!

Like the much older "bartop dancing promotes creativity!", the statement in the title is based on hope rather than logic. However, it is not entirely stupid either.

Democracy means people decide; in Singapore, people have mostly kept quiet and given the government freedom to make social and economic policies, except that every 5 years or so an election is held to re-affirm the state of affairs and provide the government with a "mark", i.e., the vote % - this is how the people decide.

How to stop a government becoming incompetent or corrupt? In the standard western model, opposition parties and mass media are supposed to monitor government performance, but this assumes that there are sufficient economic opportunities outside government control so that opposition politicians and journalists do not fear being deprived. If this is not the case the model is not applicable, and the public is required to rely on the government's own self-discipline, both in maintaining standards, and in seeking out critical views so that it may constantly try to correct errors and improve performance.

Sit-ins, demonstrations and acts of civil disobedience are a particular form of critical view, from a numerically small group that holds qualitatively strong views. Whether to allow these acts to take place is actually less important than knowing what motivates them, how widely the same motivations are shared, and whether it is necessary to do something to de-motivate them. Currently, to quite different degrees, Taiwan and Singapore are both looking at this issue.

Anonymous said...

I'm for a more democratic singapore and the right for us to express our views even if it meant that we carry placards and march down our streets but the issue here would foreigners who do not have a vested interest in the affairs of singapore protesting in our streets for a cause that would be mostly irrelevant to most singaporeans (this might seem selfish but think about it) so why should we spend our hard earned dollars (tax $$) to secure our streets and repair the damage done to our public property when ordinary singaporeans are denied this very basic right.

should we amend our laws to accommodate foreigners?

should we allow foreign people to demonstrate for causes that are largely irrelevant to us when we are denied the right to demonstrate for causes that are much more relevant to our society?

article19 said...

I share your disgust, anger, frustrations and what not. I couldn't have expressed it eloquently in words as you have done alex. Thank you.

Yujin said...

I would just like to highlight the issue that the protests are, according to anonymous (21.43), “for a cause that would be mostly irrelevant to most Singaporeans.” The IMF and the World Bank are institutions that advocate a global neo-liberal agenda. Neo-liberalism is essentially the opening of foreign markets by a plethora of means, including military interventions or, as in the case of the IMF and the World Bank, economic pressure. The problem with neo-liberalism is that, put simply, it is capitalism run amok. It is capitalism at its most exploitative (and which has its roots in the production modes in the American South), where the rights of the human being is held secondary to that of capital.

As such, there lies the reason as to why there are always a great number of protesters against transnational institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF and the policies that they implement. It is because those institutions are tools used in the continual exploitation of the poor in the South for the interests of capitalists in advanced capitalist economies (in fact, neoliberalism is in the interests of capitalists who are integrated into the global capitalist economy, regardless of nationality. It so happens that a great number of them are concentrated in the “North” i.e. US, Western Europe and Japan).

Such policies thus lead to increasing inequality within nation-states, as well as between nation-states. Neo-liberal policies would also mean the cutting back or elimination of social policies such as minimum wage, collective bargaining rights (unions) etc. Eventually the policies of the IMF will result in the wages of Singaporean workers to be driven down or remain stagnant, justified on the grounds of being more “competitive” in this age of (corporate-driven) globalization. Already, the average Singaporean worker is deprived of a social safety net, such as a minimum wage or a genuine trade union that fights for the rights of its workers. The policies of these transnational institutions will only serve to exacerbate the situation for us, especially those that work in jobs that are easily replaceable. The issues that the activists are concerned with thus have very much to do with us, as they have to do with “foreigners.”

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Further to Yujin's point, let me point to another specific issue: that of financing the construction of large dams. In the 1980s and 1990s, the World Bank supported many of such projects, which from the economic planners' point of view, tended to look very good. However, dams cause massive social and environmental disruption (difficult to quantify and therefore often ignored by planners), and the long-term outlook for the viability of many such projects is often subject to tenuous extrapolations of assumptions.

It was civil society activists who first drew attention to the need to assess the social and environmental impact, rather than looking merely at power generation and other hard statistics.

I don't have the time right now to research this, but I recall reading that eventually the Bank had to accept reviews by independent commissions of some of their projects. Many of these reviews were quite critical of the decision-making processes and assumptions behind dam-building. The World Bank has since tempered its enthusiasm for large dam projects.

I think this is a good example of the kind of positive impact that civil society activists have had on the World Bank, and the Bank seems to have learnt that the roles of CSOs have to be respected. Sometimes their warnings may turn out to be right.

The Singapore government too makes plans based on cold statistics and projections, and I think it can take a leaf out of the history of the World Bank and realise that civil society here can have a beneficial impact on policy-making.

However, as Yujin suggested, there are still many areas where the World Bank and IMF are still deaf to criticisms, and that is why it is important to allow CSOs to continue making their case.

Kritias said...

In a farm lived a cow and a dog. The farmer doesn't allow them to eat in the barn. But for some reason one day he left a bale of hay in the barn.

The cow wanted to eat the hay, but the dog lay on top of the hay and threatened to bite her.

"Dog, what is your problem? It's not like you are interested in eating that hay yourself."

"Although I don't want to eat the hay, I won't let you eat it either. I don't get to eat meat in the barn. Why should you get to eat hay in the barn?"

"But right now there is no meat in the barn, only hay. If I eat the hay, the farmer will punish me, not you. That's ok, if he beats me, I get stressed and can't give milk. Since he needs my milk, he will also suffer. He won't beat me too hard."

"No, that time there was meat in the barn but I couldn't eat it because I knew the farmer would beat me. Therefore I will not let you eat your hay now."

"The next time there is meat in the barn, you can go ahead and eat it. If the farmer gets angry, you just say: farmer, last time there was hay in the barn and cow ate it, but you didn't punish her. You can't be unfair, I am just doing what cow was doing. The farmer will be embarrassed and not punish you, or just beat you lightly!"

"The farmer should not change his rules for you! None of us are allowed to eat in the barn. If you try to eat that hay I will support the farmer and bite you."

Anonymous said...

To Kritias,love your story, but what happens when the farmer eats both the cow and the dog?
With this IMF meeting, it's simple.
It is the rich sitting with the rich on how to throw pennies to poor.Doesn't mean the poor will get the money pronto? look at Darfur Africa. What a joke.

Anonymous said...

'No need to guess why the government does not want Singaporeans to protest. But that's just it. Why shouldn't Singaporeans be allowed to protest?'-yawning bread

Singaporeans have to behave, can't have protests,Singapore has no human or civil rights to begin with.
For now, we will all have to clench our teeth...and say 'cheez'.
We cannot have LKY lose face? Then the press will have a positive field day, claiming that the despot is losing his power and control of Singapore, and will his son be able to handle the restless natives?. leading the more positive speculation that the old man is weak, and old. Shakes up the whole PAP regime. LKY cannot show any signs of politcal weakness.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous post of 15 September, 2006 21:43 said:

"should we amend our laws to accommodate foreigners?

should we allow foreign people to demonstrate for causes that are largely irrelevant to us when we are denied the right to demonstrate for causes that are much more relevant to our society?"

This question has been answered by others above me, for those who pay attention. For those who paid insufficient attention, they might have missed the answers already given, so I'll make it clearer. I feel it's of such high importance that it should be answered clearly and loudly.

So here is my answer: it's not the argument that we are to amend the law to accommodate foreigners. Rather, the argument is that the law is bad for our own welfare. If the bad law can be abolished when international forces put pressure on our govt, then that will also set the freedom for our local causes to be brought up.

Clearly, it's quite important for our people to see the situation in the correct angle. And not get caught up by puzzling over the wrong and misleading question. Whenever I see such a misleading question being put up, it rings an alarm bell and makes me anxious to negate the way it tends to cloud the minds of other readers.

The answer is the same as that of the cow and the dog, which I read with much delight. Nevertheless, I feel that those less attentive should see the answer stand out loud and clear.

Robert L

P.s. - BTW, Alex, now you need Addendum 2: the lifting of the ban on the 27 is too little too late, they have already cancelled their flights and some had their deposits forfeited. [Those 27 are not coming, so can I say: lifting of the ban is pure wayang? Love that word.]

Don Lim said...

The way I see it, the government denied the 27 activists to show the Singaporeans that they do not tolerate double standards. Only when the IMF pressurised the state with the MOU, did they decide to lift the ban for 22 of them.

They are playing a balancing game with the issue, for the benefit of the citizens that they do not bend their rules for foreigners.

YES! Why shouldn't Singaporeans be allowed to protest? That's a question I want to ask too. I understand the ban back in those days of secret society, racial riots, weaker police force. With the taxes each and every one of us are contributing, they hire more police, build a bigger army... etc. They deny us our civil rights to speak and ask questions of the governance of the country.

What is wrong with them?

Anonymous said...

Rally Photos of Dr Chee:


Whatever he did, you must give him credit for his courage.

Power of Courage!

Anonymous said...

〉 I understand the ban back in those days of secret society, racial riots, weaker police force

nothing "wrong" with them; they find it convenient to continue the practice; there are other example of such continued convenience

Anonymous said...

The IMF meeting in Singapore is a positive for PAP. It gives the ruling elite to network with the rich and powerful from different countries.
I wonder what the consequeces will be for Singaporeans who have misbehaved during the event when it is over. The ruling elite has a vindictive streak.
Nothing will change for Singapore. authoritarian governments, dictatorships never change.

Jordan said...

'World Bank head Paul Wolfowitz, meanwhile, has branded Singapore as "authoritarian" for banning protestors.
More than 160 groups have boycotted the talks over the move.
They include leading non governmental organisations who were accredited for the talks, including Friends of the Earth.
The Asian city state banned 28 civil rights activists from entering the country and deported other would-be attendees.
Hundreds of activists have gathered on the nearby Indonesian island of Batam in response to restrictions on protests.
"The protest represents both the fact that people were barred from coming in to Singapore, and also the fact that poor countries don't have a strong enough voice in the bank and the fund," said Taylor Thompson, a spokeswoman for Global Call To Action Against Poverty, a coalition of groups.
ActionAid joined in the protests, saying the World Bank and IMF should never again "hold their annual meetings in countries restricting civil and political liberties".
Its comments came after four ActionAid members of staff were detained at Singapore's Changi airport.
"Enormous damage has been done and a lot of that damage is done to Singapore and is self-inflicted," Mr Wolfowitz said. '-BBC

This is the global message of holding meetings in Singapore. The recognition of Singapore's absence of human and civl rights.

The ones that are affected by this are the Singaporeans. Perhaps PAP should loosen its tight grip on the Singaporeans who wish for democracy? Wishful thinking.
Singapore's strongman, Lee Kuan yew and his son, Lee Hsien Loong have filed a defamtion lawsuit against the Far Eastern Economic Review. The IMF has declared that Singapore will face a slowing down of economy. How will the average Singaporean cope? with greater difficulty. Singaporeans continue to get the short end of the economic foodchain, the government will continue in its tried and trusted ways of 'authoritarian rule'.
Will there be a whiplash punishment for Singaporeans who did not behave themselves...after the IMF meeting is over and everyone has gone home?
Just glad that Paul Wolfowitz made that statement.

Anonymous said...

Very disturbing pictures here of police action in rally:


Anonymous said...

the news about banned protestors has provided free advertising for SG: law and order is strict, and citizens keep quiet; invest here and your money is safe

even for non-investors, new publicity is bad publicity

Marcus said...

without a domestic base, we can only be a free economy and our govt hopes that other countries follow suit and open up.

The purpose of IMF and World Bank in helping us achieve this aim is apparent. Nothing wrong with that.

However, there are genuine concerns that some of IMF policies and projects had resulted in environmental and economic losses for the poorer nations while benefitting only the rich capitalists.

We should allow for such concerns to be aired instead of the high handed approach of banning these CSOs.

Poor handling and miscalculations...

Anonymous said...

I applaud you for your guts to criticise factually and boldly. Feeling shame is no surprise. i have long been ASHAMED of being a singaporean - for the idiotic things we are known for from our draconian government to infringment of our civil rights. i don't like this but this shame has built up over the years.

What the PAP has done at IMF is clearly in line with their blinkered way of doing things in a tyranical way. Our so called government is only able to engage its people and the world on economics terms. IT has failed to engage its people and the world in what matters most - the heart. PAP led by MMLEE is so full of arrogance and ego, they fail to see how little and insignifcant we are in the world. We have have gained fame for being a rich little country but we are scorned by the world for the govt's draconian ways of treating people.

The IMF PR disaster only highlights to the world we have no real freedom nor civil rights here. We are not free to speak without fear. I only hope that we will not perish by the same hands that built modern singapore.