IMF –World Bank Annual Meetings
Singapore smiles as meetings get under way
Singapore’s newly refurbished convention and exhibition center
1,000 temporary offices for use at the Annual Meetings.
The IMF–World Bank Annual Meetings, the focal point of
activities being held in Singapore on September 14–20, will be the largest
international event that the country has ever organized. To ensure the success
of the meetings, the government and the city-state’s four million people are
going all-out. It’s not just a matter of providing space, Internet access, phone
lines, and airconditioning for the 16,000 expected participants. It’s also a
matter of showcasing Singapore’s renowned restaurants and service culture.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong took it upon himself to
improve the country’s customer orientation, which dropped in rank from 8th in
1998 to 17th in 2005, according to the World Economic Forum’s 2005
Competitiveness Report. In January 2006, the government created a program under
which US$2.8 million was devoted to training 28,000 workers, including 18,000
employees of stores, hotels, and restaurants in key shopping areas, Changi
Airport, and other tourist destinations, as well as 10,000 public transport
As part of this effort, the government is exhorting its
citizens to be polite to foreign guests. In June, Lee launched the “Four Million
Photos of smiling citizens are being made into a digital
mural that will welcome the visitors.
The smiles will be on display when the world’s finance
ministers and central bankers, investment bankers and others from the private
sector, and the international media descend on Singapore.
The country (Singapore Island and 63 smaller islands) has
an area of about 700 square kilometers and a population density (as of July
2005) of 6,333 persons per square kilometer. How will Singapore handle all these
visitors? The Suntec Singapore International Convention and Exhibition
Center—dubbed Suntec Singapore—has over 1 million square feet of space, ample
room for the 1,000 offices, 27 large meeting rooms, press center, and
registration area the meetings require. Plus, more than 1,000 two-story
temporary offices are being built in Suntec Singapore, with 960 kilometers of
cable being laid to provide them with Internet access. In addition to 12,000
wired network points, there will be wireless “hot spots” in the visitor’s
center. To ferry the participants to the meetings and other events, more than
400 limousines and 230 buses will be pressed into service.
The intensive preparations for Singapore 2006 should be
well worth the time and effort for all parties. Indeed, a World Bank official
said “the organization side . . . is proceeding better than any Annual Meetings
we’ve had.” The event gives Asia an opportunity to showcase its economic
dynamism and the significant developments that have taken place in the region
since 1997, when the Annual Meetings were last held in the region.
The Singapore economy expects to see a boost of some US$100
million from hosting the events.
For the IMF and the World Bank, there is value in holding
their meetings overseas every third year. Because the meetings are a onetime
event for the host country, there is both a desire to promote that country’s
facilities and a willingness to allow additional time for full-scale meetings.
In Washington, D.C., security concerns have constrained the length and scale of
the meetings since 2001, and the abbreviated meetings there seem likely to
continue for the foreseeable future.
IMF External Relations Department