When I attended the Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in Singapore, one thing I quickly realised was how even language – the common everyday words we are familiar with – could be hijacked by Big Business to mask ulterior motives. Sugar-coated, benevolent words are used to disguise the mercenary goals of major transnational corporations.

Beware especially when they start talking about “reforms”. Always ask, “reforms” in whose favour: Big Business or the ordinary people? There’s a world of difference between the two.

This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote for the Herald in Malaysia last September:

The eeriness of it all reminded me of Orwell’s “1984” and Big Brother. What struck me most was the ‘doublespeak’ used throughout the annual meetings to hijack ordinary words to serve the hidden agenda of neo-liberal policies.

Thus, there was much talk about ‘poverty eradication’, ‘good governance’ and ‘sustainable development’. This was part of a public relations offensive to mask the fact that the IMF and the World Bank have been pushing neo-liberal policies that hurt the poor and harm the environment. Such policies have benefited large transnational corporations and the private sector instead. For all the talk of poverty eradication, the actual voices of the poor were nowhere to be heard inside the convention centre, save for the activists who articulated their concerns.

Even the word “reforms” has been hijacked. Thus, you are a “reformer” if you are introducing business-friendly policies such as promoting privatisation, weakening regulations on labour and environmental standards, and removing subsidies for essential services such as health care and education. You are not deemed a “reformer” if your economic policies protect workers and the environment over corporate interests.

There was much talk of “good governance’, which according to the Bank’s president Paul Wolfowitz, was broader than anti-corruption. This was the same Wolfowitz who has been widely seen as an architect of aggressive US policies in Iraq and the Middle East.

In a sense, this is no coincidence. Corporate-led globalisation promotes a grab to control and secure scare natural resources and this is essentially what is going on around the world especially in the rush to secure strategic control of oil in the Middle East. It also leads to imperialistic wars (think the “war on terror”); the increase in arms spending by the superpowers, which benefits large US and Europeans arms manufacturing firms; and the push for privatisation – which in turn to leads to an attack on labour, wages and the collective bargaining process.

For all the talk of ‘good governance’, the IMF and World Bank have done business in the past with dictators and corrupt regimes, putting entire nations into debt. This sort of debt is known as ‘odious debt’ because the ordinary people in those borrower nations were not consulted about the loans: the deals are essentially between the international financial institutions and the local elites. And yet, it is the ordinary people who have to bear the brunt of repayment of loans.