The Economist recently claimed in a report that the government is cracking down on Nobel laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus. It also said when he became the first Bangladeshi to win the Nobel peace prize in 2006, the people of Bangladesh celebrated in the streets. Dr Yunus pioneered the model of high-interest “micro-loans” to the poor in the 1980s, which helped millions of people around the world lift themselves out of poverty.
Now the situation is completely different. Let me tell you why…
Microcredit is not a new concept in this country, but it has been going on for a long time. Though Dr Muhammad Yunus, Nobel laureate in Peace, is recognized worldwide as the pioneer of this loan, Rabindranath Tagore, another Nobel laureate, initiated such loans for the development of small farmers in the Pabna and Natore area long ago, researchers said. In a nutshell, after the independence of Bangladesh, non-government bodies, with the help of various donors and missionaries, started disbursing microcredit to the poor in some villages. In the 70s, some NGOs started conducting this programme in different places. However, the distribution of microcredit seemed to be institutionalized when Grameen Bank was established in the 1980s. But in the 1990s and later, it became a major source of income.
Except for a few stories, microfinance is wholly a business, nothing else. This business generates good profit, mainly contributed by the poor. This business has no risk for the NGOs, but for the grantees. Many say that their life has been miserable due to the burden of repaying the loan instalments. There are also many instances of taking tins and roofs of the people if they fail to pay the instalment. And in some areas, many have chosen the extreme path of selling their kidneys to meet their small debt liabilities. Lucrative businesses of NGOs through conventional microcredit have failed to alleviate poverty. Failing to collect money from their husbands to pay the instalment to NGOs, many women committed suicide. There are also heart-breaking stories of poor people being forced to sell their houses and properties due to the pressure of instalments after they are organized and given microcredit loans. Family ties are being broken. As a result, their sons and daughters grow up as vagabonds, and many later become involved in crimes or drug addiction. But the poor villagers are being trapped in various types of debt due to higher interest rates against the loan.
The Economist claims that Muhammad Yunus will appear before the country’s anti-corruption commission this month for interrogation about his business. His associates are being listed and there is a risk that he will not be able to leave the country. Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has been campaigning for a decade against Yunus. Sheikh Hasina launched an investigation into Yunus’s micro-credit business as well as his personal finances, accusing him of “bloodsucker of the poor”.
How accurate is this claim?
We have seen every public and private commercial bank come forward in helping the people of the country face every disaster or crisis moment. But no one has ever heard that Dr Yunus stood by the people during any disaster in the country! However, he donated $13 million to ‘Clinton Foundation’ in 2011!
As a domestic institution, Grameen Bank must abide by the rules and laws of Bangladesh like any other institution. They cannot operate according to their will. Like every bank in Bangladesh, they must follow the central bank’s regulations. It is not accepted that they will collect people’s money as they wish, but managed by the regulations of their board.
Employees have been at loggerheads with Grameen Telecom over laying-off staff. The company of the Nobel laureate Dr Yunus laid off 99 employees in just one notice. The ongoing stalemate emerged as employees of the company filed a lawsuit demanding their dues and arrears.
According to leaders of the Grameen Telecom’s Worker-Employee Union, Nobel Laureate Dr Muhammad Yunus sacked 99 workers through a notice without any discussion with the union (B-2194) CBA. This layoff has been done through a notice signed by Grameen Telecom’s Managing Director, Md Ashraful Hasan.
What is the role of Sheikh Hasina here? Officials of the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments conducted the routine activities out of responsibility as a state organization. It is their responsibility.
To get relieved of the case, Dr Yunus settled the dispute with the employees for Tk 400 crores. Plaintiff’s lawyer, Advocate Yusuf Ali, said that the workers withdrew the case after receiving Tk 400 crore. Also, the workers’ union filed a petition seeking the liquidation of Grameen Telecom.
In the order, the court said, “Given the reality, both parties have amicably resolved the issue out of court. In this circumstance, there is no need to hold it as a case. So the case is dismissed.”
The Economist also claims that Sheikh Hasina removed Yunus from Grameen Bank and took control of the bank’s board entirely after three years. In 2012, the World Bank withdrew $1.2 billion from a project to build a bridge across the Padma River in Bangladesh, citing corruption by Bangladeshi officials. The Prime Minister later alleged that Yunus, angered by his removal from Grameen Bank, had lobbied America to withdraw the World Bank fund. After the inauguration of the Padma Bridge, the government publicly announced to investigate the reason, why the World Bank withdrew its fund from the project. Since then, the government has targeted Yunus and his various institutions.
Now the question is – why did the government remove Yunus from Grameen Bank?
Domestic institutions must follow the prevailing laws of the country. So why will the age limit of 60 years for the Managing Director (MD) post in a bank not apply to Grameen Bank? But their directors decided to keep Yunus in the MD post as there was no other qualified person to run the Grameen Bank! Finally, Yunus lost the legal battle.
Dr Yunus went to court upon his removal from the position of Managing Director of Grameen Bank. But he lost everywhere, from the lower court to the Supreme Court. According to the government bank law, the age of the MD should not exceed 60 years. But Dr Yunus was more than 70. Still, he sought help from many, including his friend Hillary Clinton, to be in the MD position.
Bangladesh Bank issued an order to remove Muhammad Yunus from the position of Managing Director of Grameen Bank. It decided to remove Yunus under the power given to the central bank of Bangladesh in Section 45 of the Bank Act. In a meeting with Yunus, the then US ambassador in Dhaka, James F Moriarty, also asked him to leave Grameen Bank voluntarily. Yet, Dr Yunus delayed and wasted time for Bangladesh Bank in taking the decision.
According to law, one can hold the position of Managing Director until the age of 60. But Dr Yunus was 70 years of age when he was the MD of Grameen Bank. So Bangladesh Bank took the action. He was asked to be an Adviser on the board. He was supposed to be the Advisor Emeritus, but he did not want to leave the MD post.
With his high influence, Dr Muhammad Yunus started opposing the construction of the Padma Bridge from the beginning. He used his Nobel laureate image in this regard. A bizarre allegation of corruption was raised even before the World Bank released any money for the Padma Bridge project. If money is not disbursed, how can there be financial corruption – will anyone in the world believe it?
Highlighting the opportunity given to Dr Yunus, the Prime Minister said, “But he cannot run Grameen Bank. When there was a devastating flood in 1998, I gave Tk 100 crore to this bank, then Tk 200 crore, and then TK 400 crore to Grameen Bank so that it could operate. I thought of the poor people. But he used to charge up to 47 per cent interest from the poor — this is the most unfortunate thing!”
Referring to giving another opportunity in the second phase, Sheikh Hasina said, “In the second time, I brought the digital system in all telecommunications as it was all analogue before. I gave the mobile phone business to the private sector, he was also given a business. I didn’t give as many chances to the two other companies as his Grameenphone. We allowed him to use railway fibre optics for Grameenphone. We waived him the deposit fee of Tk 100 crore. I gave him other facilities. He got all kinds of facilities. But that person cannot hold the post of MD, and it is a legal matter. Even after knowing this, he filed two cases against the government, accusing the governor of Bangladesh Bank and everyone else in the government. But he lost in every case, which made him more furious.”
I hope you understand how much role this Nobel laureate economist has played in building the country. Now you cannot save yourself by blaming the government. This way is no longer open as the people of the country now know the truth.
We request the Economist to double-check the partial information in the article and then publish the report.