Sunday, September 10, 2006

Schizophrenic Smilies

It is amusing to observe all the shennanigans leading up to the IMF/WB meetings. We have had PETA actvists dramatically tracked down by their cellphone signals and deported. We have had activists invited by the IMF/WB who are turned away under the vague banner of terrorism. While the world press and media have been reporting on the "rebuke" issued by IMF/WB to the host country Singapore over the barring of the accredited activists, local press have reported on the praise levelled by the IMF/WB for Singapore's role in planning the seminar programme for the meeting.

Schizophrenic signals bouncing around the world.

Lets get a few things straight. Singapore has always been a blind spot to international organisations whether deliberate or not.
On the one hand, in the world of civil society activism, Singapore's track record has been poor indeed. whether it pertains to media freedom or individual rights, Singapore has never quite escaped the tag "authoritarian".

On the other hand however, Singapore is held up as paragon of successful economic development. Pro-business and forward looking in its appreciation of Capitalism's necessity. These conflicting signals jostle for space when someone tries to understand Singapore. The essential paradox which many Westerners cannot really understand, because in their minds, a successful political state cannot be divorced from a free society. It has been ingrained into their psyches and philosophies.

This is the fundamental mistake committed by the IMF/WB. They looked the other way despite all the signals pointing to them that their meeting in Singapore will not enjoy freedom for the part of their entourage which are the CSOs. The CSO entourage are, in the eyes of the Singapore Government, a ship of fools, meant to be kept as far as possible from exciting Singaporeans in Singapore.

The IMF/WB chose to ignore Singapore's poor track record with regard to civil society activism. This is why the "rebuke" issued by the IMF/WB to Singapore for barring its accredited activists must be taken with a large dose of salt. The WB has an office here. It has paid employees residing in Singapore. That these employees did not see that Singapore will never budge on issues of political expression is simply hard to believe. The WB representative's claim that he was blind-sided at the last minute by the government's tough stance against activists, suggests an utter failure to appreciate the ground that is Singapore. Such expatriates should really read more widely on what other more enlightened expatriates see and witness that is Singapore's political track record.

In this sense then, the "rebuke" by the IMF/WB is unfair to the host country Singapore. By and large, this failure by international organisations like the IMF/WB to truly appreciate the depth of the Government's totalistic political control is symptomatic of the world's perception of Singapore. The country has perfected totalistic control to an art form that is unparalleled. For any percentage of nay-sayers to Singapore, you can find an equal percentage of yes-men to the political systme that is Singapore. For all its niggling failures, there are dramatic success stories to smooth over the cracks of the system. For all the simmering unhappiness there is still enough smiles to tide the country into the future. Singapore can be seen as paradise and hell at the same time. But most times, international organisations like the IMF/WB tend to see Singapore only as a paradise. They see its economic success. They see its stability and security. They see its pro-West stance. They get lulled into the belief that the Singapore smile is truly genuine. They are tricked by Singapore's prettier Twin.

Convenient facades. Behind the pretty smile is a schizophrenic political nature. When issues like drug trafficking or political expression slip to the surface, the other ruthless side of Singapore's political system comes into the limelight. The Ugly Twin rears its head. The country will never budge when such "political" issues are surfaced. Ask the Australians. The smile turns into a sneer. Paradise turns into hell. Transparency gets clouded over. Mules get hanged.

The Singapore Government, since being awarded hosting status for the IMF/WB meetings, has stated clearly and unequivocally that it will take a hardline stance against IMF/WB protesters. In numerous "signals" sent out via the press, it has refused to accept the IMF/WB's stance that civil society is part of the entourage, part of the guests. And the IMF/WB did not heed these signals. they were still lulled by that other "softer and prettier" Twin of Singapore. The Twin that seduces all the foreign investments, all the foreign businesses.

There was no fait accompli by the Singapore Government as the IMF/WB is trying to suggest now to appease its CSOs. It was just a failure by the IMF/WB to open it eyes and see that Singapore is a modern day perfection of the Foucaldian system of political control. To look beyond that beguiling schizophrenic smile.

Quote of the Day --

" If he is disobeyed, punishment must immediately ensure ... The physician could exercise his absolute authority in the world of the asylum only insofar as, from the beginning, he was Father and Judge, Family and Law." -- Foucault, Madness & Civilization


Anonymous Anonymous said...

wah u have nailed this one straight at the fucking heart! zhoon zhoon ... awesome

5:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


6:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

of course, for all that IMF / WB says publicly, how can we know if they sincerely want the other interest groups to be actually heard. It might just be a wayang side show, that IMF don't really care about, that is why they chose Singapore ;)

7:26 AM  
Blogger expat@large said...

You are SO right, it is hard for foreigners to disocciate themselves from the equation peddled by M. Thatcher, R. Reagan and then G. Bush Snr (all under the malign influence of Milton Friedman) wherein

Free Markets = Free Society.

This association has become so strongly internalised in the past two decades, through repetitions a passive media and continual echoing by Friedman trained Economic advisors, that when we hear the word "Democracy" we automatically think "Open Market". The terms have become synonymous and interchangeable in our heads.

Democracy in Iraq, for example, in a practical sense for most people, really means the ability to set up McDonalds and Toy-r-Us franchises without fear of loss of income from civil violence and war - which they would be compensated for afterwards anyway. What is commonly known as War Debt is usually redress paid to these multinationals for lost "opportuniity costs" - estimates of what profit they would have made if there had been no war. This is what happened in Kuwait. Iraq owed millions to Coca Cola - this was called "war debt". (Arranging these payments is part of the WB's role, I understand.)

The situation of Singapore which has a Free and Open Market and yet has Closed and Undemocratic Government creates a cognitive dissonance for people who 'reason' in a post-Milton Friedman B&W world. This is extremely hard to get beyond. Hence, as you say, the WB's blunder.

A quote you may have used already:
"Fascism should more appropriately be called corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power." --Benito Mussolini, Italian Duce

9:18 PM  
Blogger expat@large said...


9:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Agree. In Sg we have a very free market but simultaneously the most unfree society.

XB 1 : WB 0 : SG -1

3:40 AM  
Anonymous SneeringTree said...

Tottally absolutely disagree. Your argument can be turned on its head. Singapore SHOULD have known what sort of organizations it is dealing with. Singapore SHOULD have known despite their dismal record in actually helping the poor, the IMF/WB take great pains to be (or portrayed to be) consultative and willing to engage the activists.

If Singapore is so dumb as to be part of this sham, then they jolly well have something up their sleeves to deflect any criticisms. And this is assuming that the IMF/WB really had chosen Singapore because of its repressive stance towards grassroots activism.

In any case, they have known charged Singapore for breaching specific terms of the contract and agreement. What say you now?

2:42 PM  
Anonymous SneeringTree said...

Organising such major international large scale events, with plenty of history of outdoor demonstrations being allowed, Singapore thinks she can simply forget about such things and get things done in her own way? Come'on, with all the hype and getting all Singaporeans to work together to bring a success to this IMF/World Bank meeting... the govt has has screw things up themselves even before the actual meetings starts... Now the headlines may not be the good experiences the whole world will get... but rather the impose of such rules which restricts 'human rights'. This matter may be small in Singapore simply because most Singaporeans are not well aware of what human rights they really have and are simply contented with what we are having now... But people out there in the rest of the world are not like us, Singaporeans. I wont be surprise that Singapore's ranking on "human rights" will suffer another blow when the rankings are being announced again.

Got the above from:

2:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with some CSOs over the issue. IMF/World bank is being very disingenous "condemning" Singapore over the supposed CSO troublemakers. At the very least, the IMF/World Bank was hopelessly naive in believing that SGP would actually allow "troublemakers" anywhere near the conference and SGP.

I'm reminded of the Claude Raines character from the old movie "Casablanca". Paraphrasing, "I am shocked! shocked! That Singapore is not allowing professional demonstrators picket us!"

12:46 AM  

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