Citizens’ commission should probe Grameen Bank crisis
The row between the cabinet of Sheikh Hasina and the Grameen Bank founder Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus appears to have reached a climax on Thursday, with the former directing the authorities concerned to investigate whether the Yunus, while holding the post of the managing director of the bank, has unduly enjoyed any tax exemption on his foreign currency earnings. The cabinet at its regular weekly meeting also resolved, as reported by New Age on Friday, ‘to reduce the power of the bank’s board and give more authority to its chairman in appointing the managing director of the micro-credit organisations. Yunus, on the other hand, issued a public statement expressing his ‘deep shock’ at the government decision, which, he believes, ‘will ruin the bank of the poor’ and urged the ‘countrymen to come forward to save the property of the poor.’ He did not make any comment on the proposed investigation of his tax evasion, if any.
It is now a common perception in the country, and beyond, that there are personal problems, or personality clashes, between the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, and the Nobel laureate, which has contributed to Yunus’s removal as GB managing director although the government has claimed many times that it was illegal for Yunus to cling to the post after the retirement age of 60. Besides, referring to the ‘exceptionally high rate of interest of GB loan,’ the prime minister and many leaders of her ruling party have on different occasions accused Yunus and the GB of ‘sucking the blood of the poor.’ Moreover, government leaders, including the prime minister, have several times accused Yunus, directly and indirectly, of conspiring against the government to make sure that the incumbents do not get financial assistance from powerful Western organisations like the World Bank to carry out development. Earlier, in 2008, Yunus publicly provided active support for the military-backed illegal government of Fakhruddin Ahmed, which initially tried to remove Sheikh Hasina and Khaleda Zia from the country’s political arena by way of implementing the so-called ‘minus two’ theory. He even took an abortive step to launch his own political party as an alternative to the political streams represented by the Awami League and the Bangladesh Nationalist Party, which particularly enraged Hasina. However, the nature of the dispute between Hasina and Yunus, subsequently between their supporters, shows that none of the parties involved are pursing any principled position in the ongoing row. The incumbents, despite being publicly critical of the high rate of GB loans, have not made any initiative so far to reduce the rate. Yunus, on the other hand, never explained to the public as to why a person, however competent s/he be, would continue to head an organisation beyond the law, or how empowering the chairman of the bank to pick its managing director from among three people chosen by the board would affect the interest of the poor involved in the organisation.
Under the circumstances, with the government apparently pursuing its vendetta against Yunus and Yunus not explaining adequately his reasons to oppose the government proposed rules, senior citizens having adequate knowledge of micro-credit/finance and its banking, who enjoy credibility in the larger society for not being biased for or against either of the parties involved in the row, should come forward to constitute a ‘citizens’ inquiry commission’ to look into the whole problem. The citizens’ commission, after conducting an objective investigation of the imbroglio, should apprise the nation through the media of its findings, as well as recommendations, for resolving the GB crisis. It is primarily, after all, people’s money and none should be allowed to play with it. The government and Yunus should help the proposed ‘citizen’s commission’ to do the job.
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