While attending the Annual Meetings of the Boards of Governors of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank in Singapore, I soon realised that a slick makeover job, a real PR job, was underway.

In recent years, these two global financial institutions have received some bad press for the tremendous damage their policies have had on developing nations.

The PR job required a range of sweeping cosmetic measures. But could such measures really save the Bank and the IMF from their serious image and credibility crisis? No way.

This is the review I wrote for Inter Press Service after the Annual Meetings were over.

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that the Fund and Bank cannot be reconstructed,” said Glasgow-based political scientist and author John Hilley, who has written about neo-liberal militarism, the Fund and the Bank, in e-mailed comments to IPS. ‘‘Both need to be replaced by bodies concerned with people and planet rather than austerity prescriptions and business values.”

Critics said the elite closure and containment of dissident voices in Singapore should serve as a reminder that these bodies cannot be ‘constructively engaged’.

Hundreds of civil society activists were forced to divide their numbers between Singapore, where accredited activists were ‘constructively engaged’ inside the convention centre, and neighbouring Batam in Indonesia, where others held protests and parallel meetings. This divide-and-rule tactic may have weakened the overall impact of the usual civil society protests surrounding such meetings.

‘‘The Singapore meetings really showed how undemocratic the Bank and the Fund were,” said Achmad Ya’kub of the Indonesian Federation of Peasant Unions (FSPI), who was deported after being interrogated for 14 hours in Singapore. ‘‘They lost the very little credibility that they still had.”

The sentiment in some activist circles is that civil society organisations should boycott all future meetings with the Bank. Civil society ‘engagement’ in the consultative process, it is argued, indirectly helps to legitimise the WB-IMF annual proceedings..

Hilley warned that no one should be taken in by the supposedly more benign face of the Bank. ‘‘The Wolfowitz presidency, the IFC’s business agenda and the resolute adherence to growth-based policies are all testament to the Bank’s real priorities,” he said. The IFC (International Finance Corporation) is the private sector arm of the Bank, whose president, Paul Wolfowitz, is widely seen as an architect of aggressive U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and the Middle-East. Full article

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