POSTED: 1246 GMT (2046 HKT), September 15, 2006
SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz said on Friday that Singapore had damaged its own reputation by imposing "authoritarian" restrictions on the entry of activists for the World Bank/IMF meetings.
Wolfowitz said the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund did not plan to postpone their annual gathering, but he had unusually sharp words for the Southeast Asian host country.
"Enormous damage has been done and a lot of that damage is done to Singapore and self-inflicted. This could have been an opportunity for them to showcase to the world their development process," Wolfowitz said at a meeting with activists.
"I would argue whether it has to be as authoritarian as it has been and I would certainly argue that at the stage of success they have reached, they would do much better for themselves with a more visionary approach to the process."
He said the bar on entry for some activists was "a violation of the understanding that we had drawn up" with Singapore.
Singapore objected to at least 27 activists who were accredited to the meetings on the grounds they posed a threat to security and public order, putting them on a blacklist of people to be assessed by immigration and possibly refused entry.
Some would-be participants in the have already been deported or refused entry.
Asked by a civil society activist whether the IMF and World Bank would consider postponing the meeting and hold it somewhere "where it can be held with proper conditions," Wolfowitz said: "I honestly don't think that is feasible or I would consider it."
Responding to appeals, Singapore said it would allow 22 of the blacklisted activists to enter, but the remaining five would be "subject to interview and may not be allowed in."
Garry Rodan, of Murdoch University, Australia, said the World Bank and IMF had been naive about Singapore.
"Singapore has always made a virtue out of the fact it is different, and sticks to its guns, no matter how controversial, examples being the caning and execution of foreign nationals."
While Wolfowitz and Rato were speaking, about two dozen activists staged a protest in the 8 x 8 meter (8.7 x 8.7 yard) area the authorities had set aside for protest in the cavernous Suntec City hall where the meetings take place.
Activist lined up wearing gags inscribed "NO VOICE," after duly registering with the authorities one by one.
"These limits are ridiculous. Singapore is a developed country; it needs a developed perspective on citizens speaking up," said Haidy Ear-Dupuy of the NGO Forum on Cambodia.
On Batam, an Indonesian island a 40-minute ferry ride south of Singapore, a few hundred activists held a protest meeting because of the curbs on protest in Singapore.
Analysts said the meeting is turning out to be a public relations disaster for Singapore, which has spent about S$135 million ($85 million) on the event, hoping to showcase its financial industry and tourism appeal.
Instead, the world press has focused on Singapore's restrictions on free speech and right of assembly.
"It is a PR disaster. It represents a certain blindness on the part of the Singapore government towards matters of public opinion, which can be traced to the fact that they are so used to ignoring it," said Singapore political commentator Alex Au.
Rodan said Singapore would have expected lots of feel good stories about the financial sector and investment opportunities.
"But it appears to have backfired," he said.
On Tuesday, Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong explained the decision to ban outdoor protests on Bloomberg Television, saying the Government would be practising double standards if it relaxed restrictions.
'We have very strict rules for our own locals and we can't have two standards, because otherwise we'll be in deep political trouble with our citizens.'
-- Straits Times, 10 Sept 2006, Singapore takes flak for ban on protests