Mon, May 09, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Yunus fears political control of Grameen

AP, DHAKA

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus says he is worried about the future of the pioneering microlending bank he founded now that Bangladesh’s government has ousted him as its head.

Yunus indicated he fears the government may seek to influence Grameen Bank’s governing structure and its lending policies, which could destabilize the agency.

In a statement late on Saturday, the prominent government critic said he felt there was “growing doubt” over the government’s role in civil society.

“There is doubt as to whether Grameen Bank or similar civil society initiatives can be continued with their own identities and -autonomy,” the statement said.

It went on to say that the focus should be on maintaining the bank’s identity.

“It is an important task to protect Grameen Bank’s identity and ensure that poor people remain as its owner,” the statement said.

The country’s highest court recently upheld a government decision to remove Yunus — a prominent government critic — as managing director of Grameen, ending decades of leadership at the bank he set up to lend money to the poor.

Yunus alleges that Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s administration is trying to take control of the bank, but the government says the bank’s progress will continue.

Bangladesh’s central bank -removed Yunus, 71, as Grameen’s chief executive earlier this year, saying he had violated retirement laws that bar officials from working after the age of 60 without special government approval. The country’s highest court rejected his last appeal on Thursday.

Yunus whose idea has been replicated across the developing world, earning him and the bank the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize, said he would continue to fight against poverty in a different way.

A government-sponsored committee last month recommended the government should make changes to Gameen to make it more accountable. The committee concluded that Grameen Bank functioned by changing many -basic rules contained in the 1983 charter that established the bank. The investigation also said that Grameen had created many affiliates that became successful business entities beyond its mandate, but that these did not benefit its shareholders.

Grameen disputed the report’s findings.

Meanwhile, a Grameen Bank official alleged on Saturday that operatives from an undisclosed intelligence agency abducted him and tortured him for four hours before releasing him.

Accounts officer Sagirul Rashid Chowdhury said the officials tried to force him make a statement against Yunus.

Dhaka Metropolitan Police -official Kazi Wazed, who recorded the case at a local police station, declined to comment yesterday.

Yunus has long had frosty relations with the prime minister. She was reportedly angered by his 2007 attempt to form a political party backed by the powerful army when the country was under a state of emergency and Hasina herself behind bars.

Hasina has also accused Grameen Bank and other microfinance institutions of charging high interest rates and “sucking blood from the poor borrowers.”

The bank currently has about 9 million borrowers in Bangladesh, 97 percent of whom are women. Many use their small loans to make ends meet or to start small businesses.

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