Singapore (dpa) - Singapore's banning of 19 accredited activists from a giant world financial conference ignited predictions Saturday that the move would backfire and embarrass the city-state, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
"The world will see the reality of Singapore," said Sinapan Samydorai of the Asian Forum on Human Rights and Development, with the city-state so saturated in security that members of the public will be subject to random searches.
More than 16,000 delegates from 184 countries were starting to arrive during the weekend for the September 11-20 seminars and annual meeting of the IMF and World Bank.
Members of civil society organizations (CSOs) were also expected following the government banning of 19 representatives deemed possible security threats by police despite the urgings of the IMF and World Bank to allow them to attend.
Among those prohibited was Antonio Tricarrio, coordinator of the Campaign to Reform the World Bank, who described the Singapore government's stand as a "major blow" to the two institutions and "terribly embarrassing."
The prohibition followed Singapore's refusal to comply with World Bank requests to allow outside protests and has relegated the more than 500 CSOs to two rooms in the corner of the Suntec City lobby. They will be allowed to engage delegates in front of the rooms.
Earlier this month Peter Stephens, with the World Bank's Singapore office, said the body was working to ensure that "diverse civil society voices are very much heard before, during and after the annual meetings."
In contrast, police said on Friday, "While we welcome bona fide travellers to visit Singapore during the event, those who are deemed undesirable will not be eligible for entry."
"Whether the activists, many of whom are familiar with street protests outside venues, will comply with the restrictions is unknown," Samydorai said.
More than 10,000 police and military will be on the lookout for unlawful gatherings boosted by helicopters hovering above.
Gatherings of more than four people outside without a police permit have long been banned in the city-state, determined to boost its image as a safe destination for high-profile conventions.
With the city under siege, financial firms have told their staff to go on leave or work from home to cope with the security measures, access blocks and traffic.
Giant UBS is having nearly half of its staff either go on leave or work from other sites, including their homes and even overseas offices. The bank is asking staff to work in shifts.
The government has spent 60 million US dollars on the event since it was awarded the bid six years ago.
"UBS's approach to contingency arrangements is based on pragmatic measures designed to minimize the logistical issues of getting staff to and from the Suntec area," The Business Times quoted chief operating officer Teo Lay Sie as saying.
UBS employs nearly 1,800 people in the city-state, with the vast majority at Suntec city.
At Kim Eng Securities, executive vice-president Tan Pei San said more staff than usual are taking leave during the IMF/World Bank meetings.
Other staff of the securities firm have been encouraged to work staggered hours.
"We can't stagger hours of our trading staff," he told the newspaper.
Despite the measures banks and businesses are taking in the Suntec City area, they do not want to deter customers.
"The measures we have established will provide the environment for us to ensure it is business as usual," Teo said.
To minimize clients' inconvenience, UBS has informed them to avoid coming to the Suntec area as access is expected to be very difficult.
Retailers in the area are hoping the delegates and their spouses will compensate for the drop in local shoppers and are offering tempting discounts.
"There may be some difference in the number of shoppers because the security arrangements will cut out drivers from entering the Suntec area, but we hope that the delegates will make up for it," Alan Tan, OSIM's head of marketing said.
OSIM will have 12 of its massage chairs ready to soothe weary delegates at the meeting, Tan said.
Someone else is also embarassed by Singapore.
The move by Singapore was especially embarrassing for the bank’s president, Paul D. Wolfowitz, who has made his appeals for proper “governance” a cornerstone of his 15 months at the bank and called on poor countries around the world to strengthen the role of nongovernment organizations.