Saturday, September 16, 2006

This Singapore librarian's take on the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings in Singapore

I always enjoy Rana's take on issues happening in Singapore (he hails from India, btw). Like this post on the Straits Times coverage of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank meetings being held in Singapore now. I like it because (1) I get a glimpse of how events in Singapore are perceived by a non-Singaporean, (2) it's articulated in a rational way, (3) and it adds on to what I've read from our local news.

As an employee of the NLB, the Singapore IMF meetings means a chance for this particular group of overseas delegates to see our public libraries and National Library first hand. I'd love to know what they think of our libraries (both good and bad points). Maybe they might make the connection (or reinforce the notion) that the development of a country's economy and the development of its public libraries go hand in hand.

I'm not saying anything new really. Without a doubt, the development of a country's economy -- job creation and income generation for its citizens -- comes first. Without wealth in society, a vibrant public library system just cannot be sustained. What I'm saying is that the planning of a country's public library system cannot be done as an afterthought to its economic development.

For Singapore, we're fortunate there has been continuity in the development of our public libraries since the early days when Sir Stamford Raffles suggested there should be one, then followed by the conscientious implementation of Library 2000, and now the on-going efforts with Library 2010. Hmm... I realised the NLB website ought to have a more easily accessible section on the history of Singapore's National Library and Public Libraries (I'll submit this via our Staff Suggestion system).

While I have done my Economics 101 in school, I'm no economist and my understanding of what the World Bank does is sketchy at best. Recently I read one of their brochure. I think it was called "10 Things You Didn't Know About the World Bank". In it, it covered 10 major aspects of their work (now I know their main mission is "to eradicate proverty poverty").

But I suspect the general association most Singaporeans have of the IMF/ World Bank meetings is characterised by words like "protests" and "demonstrations". Attention is inevitably drawn to how the Singapore organisers and authorities have blacklisted some activists and it doesn't help when the IMF/ World Bank came out to say the host has not honoured the agreement in undertaking the organising of the meeting (well, concessions have been made and World Bank is reportedly pleased).

While the above was happening, I was wondering why it is only during IMF/ World Bank meetings that the activitists can meet the IMF / World Bank delegates. Couldn't there be virtual meetings? Then IMF/ World Bank can directly control who is allowed "entry" to the discussions. Or why not IMF/ World Bank organise special meetings with individual groups? Go meet the activists rather than the other way around.

Perhaps all this is really a spin -- by Straits Times, by IMF/ World Bank, by the activists and lobby groups, by the Singapore Government.

Yesterday I walked passed past the area where the meetings are held. Security was tight. I saw Gurkhas armed with automatic weapons. But it wasn't oppressive and frankly, I felt assured that security is being taken in a serious and professional manner.

A friend asked me if I agreed or disagreed with the restrictions on the activists and Singapore's long standing ban on public demonstrations.

Of the former, I'm certain the decision wasn't made lightly. Singapore knows the world is watching on how it handles the event and they would've avoided negative publicty if they could help it. Of the latter, I said that's a fact of life in Singapore which I've accepted, and in truth, public demonstrations have a way of getting rowdy and violent and I'd rather avoid that.

In my own rambling way, I'm saying I agree with whatever is deemed necessary by the organisers to ensure the safety of our guests and Singaporeans. Someone's got to make the call. Whatever my views and beliefs, my butt is not on the line.

Ultimately, we have to look at whether the objectives and intent of the IMF/ World Bank meetings are met. I don't think the meetings are organised just so that demonstrations and protests can be held.


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2 comments:

  1. Security is the most important as lives are at stake. If Singapore has to ban the activists so as to protect it's own people and also the guests, then it should go ahead, regardless of what others think.

    I do see the increased presence of security personnel in MRT stations, especially dhoby ghaut mrt. It makes me feel safer. :)

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  2. Thank you very much. I am glad you liked my post and grateful you mentioned it in your blog. I do read you as you know.

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