Thursday, December 07, 2006

Prof Muhammad Yunus discontent against telecom giant Telenor


ABU SAEED KHAN

Dhaka, Dec 6 (bdnews24.com) -- Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus has accused Telenor of breaching the contract and depriving Grameen Bank of PrameenPhone's management control, Fortune magazine said in an article Tuesday.

This is the first time Yunus publicly attacked Telenor and he did so a few days before receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, which is Telenor's hometown.

"When Muhammad Yunus travels to Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize December 10, he will come prepared to fight for management control over a company he believes is sucking profits from the poor of Bangladesh," Fortune wrote.

Yunus said he intended to point out the irony that the country that is awarding him the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on microcredit is also home to a state-controlled company, Telenor, which he says refuses to honour an agreement to allow nonprofit Grameen Bank to take majority control of their joint mobile-phone venture.

Formed in October 10, 1996, grameenphone was Telenor's first venture in Asia. It was composed of Telenor (a 51 percent stake), Grameen Telecom (35 percent), Marubeni Corporation (9.50 percent) and Gonofone Development (4.50 percent).

Long before publicly bashing the Norwegian partner, Grameen Telecom, a unit of Grameen Bank, served a legal notice on Telenor on November 27, 2002.

When grameenphone was incorporated it was provisioned that Telenor would retain a 51 percent stake for the first six years and then transfer the control by selling its minimum 16 percent shares to Grameen Telecom under a first right of refusal, the notice claimed.

But the Norwegians never gave the microcredit lender grameenphone's control, which Grameen Telecom considers "a breach of obligation" under the Articles of Association and served the legal notice on Telenor through Barrister Omar Sadat.

Meanwhile, Marubeni and Gonofone sold their shares while Telenor and Grameen Telecom increased respective stakes to 62 percent and 38 percent in 2004.

After winning the Nobel Peace Prize two years later, Yunus made no effort to hide the discontents and reiterated to Fortune that Telenor "agreed to give us majority ownership within six years (in 2002)."

"Our intent was to convert to a social business enterprise (where profits are reinvested in the company rather than taken out), but Telenor does not accept."

He said Telenor is "oriented toward profit maximisation" while Grameen Telecom is "oriented toward social objectives."

In reply Telenor has come up with an olive brunch. "We have already invited Professor Yunus and Grameen Bank to discuss the relevant topics, and we are convinced that we will reach an understanding," said an official statement Wednesday.

"Now is the time to pay tribute to Grameen Bank and Professor Yunus for their long-lasting efforts in alleviating poverty in Bangladesh that ownership in grameenphone reflects our belief in the Bangladeshi market."

Telenor said that as a long-term, industrial actor, it contributes substantially to the development of the society in Bangladesh. Telenor is prepared to make necessary investments, extend the knowledge sharing with other mobile companies in the Group and put the best efforts into the development of the company.

"We welcome the initiative of discussing the future development of grameenphone together with Grameen Bank. However, the topic is of great importance to both grameenphone and Bangladesh as such. We believe that it is in all parties' interest to avoid a hasty process." #

Abu Saeed Khan is bdNews24.com Technology Editor