Historically, the World Bank and the non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of the world have been united in their “commitment to poverty alleviation and economic development in the Third World”. In other words, the World Bank has been a great source of business revenue for the NGOs.
However, this past week the government of Singapore, acting as a gracious host for the annual World Bank and IMF meeting, has violated the human rights of protesters seeking a forum to voice their dissent.
At the outset of the meetings, the government announced a ban on 27 accredited activists. Local police have repeatedly contained and harassed Singaporean opposition leader Chee Soon Juan and his followers as they attempted to stage protests against the World Bank and IMF.
In response, more than 80 NGOs announced a boycott of the meeting, including big name NGOs like Oxfam and Greenpeace. Their response has been to organize a separate “counter” meeting on the nearby Indonesian island of Batam.
The human rights violations committed by the government of Singapore to protect the closed-door meetings of two of the world’s largest development financiers may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The meetings in Batam are not just a venting session about the lousy Singapore police, far from it. Topics being covered include debt forgiveness, climate change, privatization of natural resources, and the deterioration of public services.
The declining legitimacy of these institutions has now reached a critical mass, as protests have moved beyond the typical, angry street protesters in Seattle and into the realm of respected development organizations.
Such dissent on the part of global non-governmental organizations is long overdue. While the Bank and its legion of bureaucrats debate the merits of one approach over another, the non-transparency and closed nature of the entire annual meeting reeks of hypocrisy and ineffective leadership. In fact, the time for debate is over. The World Bank and similar institutions represent outdated institutional structures crumbling under the heavy weight of repeated failure and declining public support.
The meetings in Batam have illustrated a few important points: take action, now; organize and implement alternatives; don’t let up, continue criticizing, protesting, and pushing for massive reforms.