Global Policy Forum

IMF-WB Exposed by Ban on NGOs


By Rudy Parawisto

Inter Press Service
September 9, 2006

Attempts to stop an International People's Forum (IPF) on the Indonesian island of Batam, planned to coincide with next week's annual meeting of the World Bank (WB) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Singapore, reflect badly on the finance institutions and expose their 'anti-people' policies, say forum organizers.

''In the first place we wanted to have it (the Sep. 15-18 forum) in Singapore but, because the government there would not allow it, we went to Batam which is close to Singapore,'' said Kusfiardi (one name), coordinator for the Indonesian chapter of the international non-governmental organization (NGO) 'Anti-debt Coalition', a forum member.

''Some of us will also be attending the IMF-WB meeting since we have registered and got accreditation. Batam is the most logical place to hold the parallel meeting because it is a 45-minute ferry ride away,'' explained Nadia Hadad, spokeswoman for the Jakarta-based organizer of the IPF, the International NGO forum on Indonesian Development (INFID).

But, earlier this week, the provincial police chief of Batam sent a letter to the INFID organizers informing them that the parallel event has been banned on the grounds that it could harm relations between Indonesia and Singapore. Reports in the Indonesian media on Saturday said Indonesia had deployed its anti-terror squad ‘Detachment 88' at sea ports in Batam to scrutinise passengers arriving on the island, which INFID claims was clear indication of collusion between Singapore and Jakarta. A few years ago Singapore had signed an agreement with Indonesia to develop Batam as an offshore economic zone that could take advantage of capital from Singapore business interests and cheap labour in Indonesia.

The Batam police chief also cited security reasons for banning the IPF from the island, which INFID thought ridiculous. "Our intention is to respond to the IMF-WB meetings where we (IPF) will be discussing issues that are also discussed at the official events. We have no intention of attacking the Singapore government. We are talking of issues that are very critical to Third World countries like Indonesia, the Philippines and others,'' Hadad told IPS.

''Batam police's decision goes against the spirit of openness in Indonesia (since the fall of Suharto),'' said Kusfiardi. "But the decision doesn't come from Batam police-- it comes from pressure from the Singapore government and the IMF-WB. There are a lot of Singapore investors in Batam and they say that it (the forum) will discourage investment''. Kusfiardi said the severe restrictions on civil society groups in Singapore and Indonesia show that "they (IMF-WB) are not committed to what they preach (to developing country governments),'' he added. The reference was to the agenda of WB president Paul Wolfowitz to bring up the issue of good governance and corruption at the annual meeting.

Hadad told IPS that, under Indonesian law, INFID does not need a permit to hold the forum. They just need to inform the police three days in advance of an event so that necessary security can be arranged. "While we don't actually need a permit we submitted, with good intention, on Aug. 1, a letter to the police regarding our events --but we did not get any response''.

Apparently, the police move was in response to statements issued by local NGOs in Batam, claiming to be part of INFID, saying that there were plans to send people to Singapore for protest march. "But that was not us and we were not planning to take our protest march to Singapore. We don't know even who these NGOs are,'' Hadad said. 'Jakarta Post' reported on Friday that the police decision has the support of 18 local NGOs in Batam that expressed fears that the IPF will undermine investments on their island, which attracts thousands of workers from across Indonesia to work in factories set up by foreign investors. However, the influential daily also said that there is speculation that local NGOs are being paid off by business interests.

The letter from Batam police, which has been obtained by Jakarta Post, said that fears have been expressed by employers in Batamindo industrial estate, that the gathering would ‘'have an influence on their workers''. Batamindo is a major investment by Singapore companies with the estate's operational headquarters in Singapore. The estate employs thousands of workers, mainly young women, who come from villages in Java and Sumatra islands and live in dormitories inside the complex.

''It is our right to express our opinions. We are not involved in destruction,'' notes Kusfiardi . "It is the IMF-WB policies which are destructive to lives of people in the developing countries. We're expressing our views on these policies''. Kusfiardi argues that the Singapore government wants the IPF in Batam banned because "they want to have a meeting with relatively no problems, so that they can position themselves as a major venue to hold such large conferences and, in turn, make a lot of money''.

IMF-WB issued a joint statement from Washington on Thursday, calling upon the Singapore government not to block "properly accredited civil society representatives'' from attending their meeting. "We have consistently opposed any restrictions on full participation and peaceful expression of views. Open dialogue with civil society is also important for the effective operation of our institutions,'' they said in the statement.

Kusfiardi, however, is sceptical of IMF-WB claims to being supportive of civil society participation at the Singapore meeting. ''The IMF and WB are using Singapore to protect themselves from protests and demonstrations against their policies (which are destroying lives in developing countries),'' he argues. ''These institutions want to be seen as development experts, but in most cases their policies are not working and they don't want to be open to criticism (by civil society groups).''

While IMF-WB said they have given accreditation to some 500 NGO representatives from more than 45 countries, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Singapore government will not allow many of them to enter the city-state or participate in the annual meeting. Essentially that would mean that authorities in Singapore would not honour a memorandum of understanding requiring the government "to assure expeditious entry procedures, including the issuance of visas when required and warranted for any observers and other persons included in the categories of participants specified in the annual meetings requirements manual, who are accredited to or invited by the organizations to be present for the meetings.''

Civil society activists have been accusing the financial institutions of not being serious about enforcing that commitment by the Singapore government. Hadad said INFID received a letter from IMF-WB on Friday informing them that Singapore has banned its members. But, she said, the WB director in Indonesia has told them that he was negotiating with the Singapore government to get the ban reversed. INFID, she said, is listed to speak at a number of official fora between civil society and IMF-WB at Singapore.

INFID's executive director Donatus Marut also said he had been informed by IMF-WB that, although accredited, Singapore would not allow him to attend the meetings. While the letter assigned no reason, he believes it may have to do with his lead role in organizing the planned forum at Batam. ''This situation puts IMF-WB into a difficult situation,'' Hadad argued. "It harms the image that they have been building so far of being open to dialogue about the impact of its policies with civil society groups.''



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