||The World Bank and IMF seem to have chosen Singapore as the site for their meeting because they want to avoid legitimate protest, writes Patrick Bond
The battle lines between civil society and the multilateral institutions which constitute our prevailing system of global governance are increasing.
Take, for example, the recent World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) annual meetings in Singapore. For civil society, the official welcome in Singapore may not have matched the recent brutality by Robert Mugabe against trade union leaders, or Durban police against shack dwellers, but it more than confirmed Singapore's reputation as an intolerant police state where even chewing gum is a crime. It was also a clear demonstration of the grim onslaught that civil society must contend with.
The regime banned the arrival of dozens of social and environmental activists, including many with official World Bank/IMF accreditation. Others who got to the airport were immediately extradited. Singapore even asked neighbouring Indonesia to cancel a citizen's conference critical of the World Bank and IMF.
Civil society leaders responded with a boycott call, observed by nearly all substantial groups. In their petition, Jubilee South, the world development aovement, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth International and Oil Watch International noted: Knowing full well the authoritarian character of the Singaporean government, the bank and IMF appear to have picked Singapore as the site because they wanted to avoid legitimate and peaceful street protests.
True, but let's back up to understand the broader context for the assault on institutions of international civil society. Nearly all the major multilateral institutions have been captured by hardliners over the past couple of years. For example, the European Union chose Spanish neoconservative Rodrigo Rato as IMF managing director in mid-2004. The new head of Unicef, chosen in January 2005, was George Bush's agriculture minister, Ann Veneman.
For another key UN post in February 2005, the outgoing head of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Supachai Panitchpakdi from Thailand, was chosen to lead the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Paul Wolfowitz was appointed by Bush to head the World Bank in March 2005. The European Union's trade negotiator, Pascal Lamy, won the directorship of the WTO a few weeks later.
Finally, to ensure that Washington's directives to Kofi Annan continued to be as explicit as possible, Bush appointed John Bolton as US ambassador to the UN.
Bolton is illustrative, for he was never confirmed by the US Congress since Bush gave him the job during a mid-2005 recess. Bolton's main function, beginning in 2001 when Bush captured the White House, was to disempower the UN. He also engineered Washington's withdrawal from (or weakening of) the anti-ballistic missile treaty, a biological weapons convention protocol, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, the nuclear test ban treaty, the UN conference on the illicit trade in small arms and light weapons, and the International Criminal Court.
It is in this context that we can understand other recent debacles of global governance: the inability to expand the UN Security Council in September 2005; the breakdown of the Doha round of World Trade Organisation negotiations in July 2006; and the planned shrinkage of Africa's voting power within the IMF board of governors from 4.1% to 2.4%.
In addition, we must concede the utter futility of reform proposals being advanced by some in civil society, along with some governments, like Thabo Mbeki's.
This fusion of neoliberalism and neoconservatism is personified by Paul Wolfowitz, the World Bank President. Since January this year, Wolfowitz's bank has a new self-declared mission: to stem project graft, whose historical costs to the 62-year-old institution are conservatively estimated at R771 billion. The bank's anti-corruption plan asks its contractors and staff to declare their knowledge of backhanders, which will guarantee an amnesty and non-prosecution.
This strategy has been condemned by the Toronto-based NGO Probe International: (because) it immunises bribers from debarment, allows the bank to cover-up its own negligence or complicity, and undermines the administration of justice in countries where it is a criminal offence to bribe a foreign official.
The bank in Lesotho is a good example, because with the help of Durban lawyer Guido Penzhorn, the Maseru government is standing up to the dirty dozen corrupt firms and consortiums which bribed top Highlands Development Authority officials.
Civil society groups are used to the runaround. In the case of the bank's ill-fated 1998-2001 World Commission on Dams (WCD), chairman Kader Asmal despaired at the follow-up findings of the (2002-03) World Panel on Financing Infrastructure. Asmal wrote: For an esteemed panel to effectively write off the WCD, whose core recommendations have been endorsed by many of its member organisations, is quite remarkable and raises concerns about the value of the report. Failing to address this point effectively takes us back many years.
Moreover, ubiquitous World Bank/IMF poverty reduction strategy papers (1999-present) also proved to be a dead end, according to many cases considered carefully by researchers.
The crucial Extractive Industries Review (EIR) was similarly constructed as a multi-stakeholder project (2002-04). But the bank was not serious about tackling problems caused by the mineral, petroleum and timber industries. According to analysts at Friends of the Earth, Environmental Defence and International Rivers, One of the bank's most important environmental reforms of the 1990s was its more cautious approach to high-risk infrastructure and forestry projects. This policy is now being reversed.
Specifically, the environmentalists complained, In 2002, the bank dismissed its 'risk-averse' approach to the forest sector when it approved a new forest policy. The World Bank is also considering support for new oil, mining, and gas projects in unstable and poorly-governed countries, against the recommendations of its own evaluation unit.
The EIR recommended a phasing out of all bank fossil fuel investments in late 2003. In February 2004, SA's then energy minister, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, advised the bank to oppose the 'green lobbyists' - six months later the bank board rejected the EIR's main proposals.
The boycott of World Bank activities by most forces within civil society launched last week reminds of the calls to stigmatise South Africa before 1994. And why not? After all, Thabo Mbeki has popularised the term 'global apartheid' - do we reinforce these chains or break them?
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