Wednesday, August 16, 2006

It’s my party and I’ll keep it dry if I want to …

"Dissent off the agenda in Singapore" in Singabloodypore...

16,000 delegates from 184 countries will converge on Singapore to attend the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings next month. Held outside Washington once every 3 years, the meetings are usually held against the background of noisy (sometimes violent) protests and street demonstrations.

Singapore authorities, however, have indicated that they would not brook such actions. In February, the Home Affairs Minister Wong Kan Seng warned that public protest may attract severe punishment, including caning and imprisonment. In March, a group of civil society activists wrote to PM Lee Hsien Loong to ask the government to permit the "traditional" protests. (Apparently, they have yet to receive a reply). On the other hand, Peter Stephens of the World Bank (Singapore office?) has assured activists that it is working with the IMF and the Singapore government "to ensure that civil society voices are very much heard."

In July, the Straits Times reported that accredited activists would be permitted to express their views in a special area within the convention centre, and must abide by police regulations which include bans on wooden/metal poles to hold up placards.

Not much of a party there.

Have you ever thrown a party? The kind where people dance, drink alcohol, and sometimes mess up the bathroom? It can be argued that if you did not wish to have let people have drink and have fun, you have no business hosting a party in the first place.

I'm sure the Singapore government must have had *some* idea of what happens at IMF/WB meetings. Then why offer to host it? Against the glitz and glamour, publicity, tourism dollars, and golden opportunity to position Singapore as the premier MICE destination of Asia, the cost of security measures and rubbing some civil society groups (who already do not like them) is probably a very small price for the Singapore government to pay.

But the question is: does Singapore have any business throwing this IMF/WB party if it is going to insist on such stringent rules? Invite your friends and tell them to check in the beer at the door?

This is subjective, but it can also be said that it is the responsibility of the host to look after his guests' protection in addition to their palates. If someone in the party is getting rowdy, you need to calm him down and make sure he does not hurt anyone else (and your belongings!). If you *know* someone has a tendency to become rowdy, it is probably a better idea not to invite him in the first place.

In this context, perhaps, Singapore’s rules for the IMF/WB meetings make sense.

It should be noted that the IMF/WB organizers -- who must likewise also have been aware of Singapore authorities' tolerance for protests, demonstrations, strikes, and illegal (and other non-productive) gatherings, or lack thereof - had given their blessings. Perhaps they too harbor a secret desire to meet and for once not have beer bottles thrown at them?

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