Monday, August 28, 2006

Smile for Them Too

Its coming soon. The IMF/WB meetings in Singapore. The event has galvanised the country's PR machine, road paving work, tree pruning activities and a massive phased campaign to bring out 4 million smiles for them rich folks coming into town.

The corresponding part of the travelling entourage, civil society groups and NGOs who protest against the IMF/WB have been warned off with the dreaded cane, well drilled riot troops, pepper spray and the gamut of enforcement activities which signal clearly that the protesters are not part of the 4-million smiles welcome package. Instead, these folks will be shunted off to Batam for their trouble-making activities.

Smile for the 16,000 folks who will step foot on our sun-spilled paradise to solve world problems and make the world a better place to live. Smile for these saviours and crusaders against world poverty.

"Today, India is in a situation where it pays back more money to the Bank in interest and repayments of principal than it receives from it. We are forced to incur new debts in order to be able to repay our old ones. According to the World Bank Annual Report, last year (1998), after the arithmetic, India paid the Bank 478 million dollars more than it received. Over the last five years ('93 to '98) India paid the Bank 1.475 billion dollars more than it received." -- The Greater Common Good, Arundhati Roy

Go read the article by Booker-winning writer Roy. Its long but there's an amazing story there. Of Government and a global financial institution, working hand-in-hand to bring progress and development to a Third World Country. There are some eye-opening mentions of Governmental deals, multi-billion industry projects wrapped in the politics of the World Development Aid industry. Building Big Dams. Bringing water to the people.

Not only smile, you will end up laughing like Roy when you finish reading the story.

So while our hallowed media institutions in Singapore will tell you all the benefits that hosting this event will bring to Singapore, telling you all the reasons why you have to put on the smile, teaching Singaporeans proper etiquette to play gracious hosts to our esteemed guests, they will omit to tell you some simple facts. Like what is the IMF/WB all about and what it has done so far :

"The bank and the fund gained reputations for uncompromising and often unsuccessful policies in the 1980's and early 90's, when they encouraged countries to pursue development plans that were based on rigorous economic logic but failed to consider local circumstances. Like an emergency room doctor who gives every patient an appendectomy regardless of the symptoms, the institutions treated almost every developing nation the same – with a package often referred to as "structural adjustment." Usually, in return for aid, they imposed strict budgetary discipline, the ending of subsidies for food and other basics, increases in the cost of public services like health care and the elimination of trade barriers." -- As Global Lenders Refocus, a Needy World Waits, March 17, 2002, New York Times by Daniel Altman

There is enough literature on the problems of the WB/IMF to flood this entire blog many times over. Instead, this entry is an explanation of sorts to the question why activists and groups from other countries are willing to spend their money, their time and their effort to campaign against the IMF/WB meeting. They do it because there are real people suffering in their countries due to the lending policies of WB/IMF. They do this because millions of people have had their lives displaced by the projects sanctioned by the WB/IMF.

But the local press and authorities do not see that. Instead they have demonised the CSOs and the NGOs, something not even the WB/IMF has done, and portrayed them as a potentially violent rabble who will cause all kinds of trouble in Singapore. Why?

Because in Singapore, there is this very fragile threshold towards people who believe in causes, who believe in something worthwhile. Because in Singapore there is this inherent suspicion that people who believe in something are necessarily communists or extremists. Because in Singapore belief in a cause does not feed the stomach, hence, it is un-pragmatic and further hence, something suspicious. Because in Singapore, if you believe in something which is not what the Government wants you to believe in, than you are trouble.

There are some obvious corollaries to be drawn to the state of Singaporeans. But lets not draw them. Instead, when we smile for the 16,000 delegates of the IMF/WB, lets also spare a smile for the untold hundreds or unseen thousands who will be making their way to Batam or to that yellow box in Suntec City. Because some of them are fighting for people who have been made homeless, people who have perished, people who need hope in their lives. Smile for them who are fighting for something they believe in. They are fighting for something real. As real as you and me.

Smile for them too. Smile for their beliefs, their hopes, their struggles.


Quotes of the Day --

"Bhaiji Bhai and his people, forced to smile for photographs on government calendars. Bhaiji Bhai and his people, denied the grace of rage. Bhaiji Bhai and his people, squashed like bugs by this country they're supposed to call their own ... Bhaiji Bhai, Bhaiji Bhai, when will you get angry? When will you stop waiting? When will you say `That's enough!' and reach for your weapons, whatever they may be? When will you show us the whole of your resonant, terrifying, invincible strength? When will you break the faith? Will you break the faith? Or will you let it break you?"

"To slow a beast, you break its limbs. To slow a nation, you break its people. You rob them of volition. You demonstrate your absolute command over their destiny. You make it clear that ultimately it falls to you to decide who lives, who dies, who prospers who doesn't. To exhibit your capability you show off all that you can do, and how easily you can do it ... You use caprice to fracture a people's faith in ancient things - earth, forest, water, air. Once that's done, what do they have left? Only you. They will turn to you, because you're all they have. They will love you even while they despise you. They will trust you even though they know you well. They will vote for you even as you squeeze the very breathe from their bodies. They will drink what you give them to drink. They will breathe what you give them to breathe. They will live where you dump their belongings. They have to. What else can they do? There's no higher court of redress. You are their mother and their father. You are the judge and the jury. You are the World. You are God."

Arundhati Roy, The Greater Common Good


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A minor point: I think you meant "Booker" --- Arundhati Roy did not win a Nobel prize.

3:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh yes thanks, have changed.

4:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Smile! You're on Hypocrisy Camera!

1:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wait till your $65,000 car gets smashed or the Macs employing aunties and providing free study areas for kids get overun by these Ang Mo anarchiss, and will you still be smiling at them?

Anyway, you are not the one who will be cleaning the mess after that. While you theorise about global inequality, the poor "Blanga" worker will be cleaning the shit left behind, as in the case of Hong Kong

4:42 PM  
Blogger KiWeTO said...

Dear Anon 4:42pm,

would that not then be the greatest irony? That the individuals who will clean up the mess after the orgy of good intention expression, are the very people facing the problem?

As for Anarchists, well, fear of Seattle? its not like SG doesn't have laws for protests and expressions of positions, they just never approve anyone to have any kind of protest. So do we doubt the protestors or do we doubt our police's ability to maintain law and order?

whither the IMF/World bank's failures, the fact for the frog-in-the-well-Singapore is that these series of meetings are a pretty acid test of whether the SG rulers desire a more 'open' country, or its just another show of smoke and light as per each National Day Parade.


5:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well. hong Kong thought that the meeting was meant to be a showcase. However, it caused so much disruption to the SAR that it did not seem worth it.

The last time its riot police came to be used was during the cultural revolution riots in the 1960s. HK has vibrant street demos. But its residents are not used to violence

12:25 AM  

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