Thursday, March 31, 2011

Bangladesh Government, Yunus Talks Making Good Progress

ANISUR RAHMAN

NEGOTIATIONS TO resolve the issue of unceremonious dismissal of Grameen Bank founder Muhammad Yunus progressed towards a "positive direction" with both sides softening their stance for an amicable settlement, a highly placed official source said here today.

"I can tell you this much despite earlier uncertainties, the process is on progress towards honourable solution to the crisis," the official source, familiar with the "compromise process" told PTI preferring anonymity.

He declined to predict when the outcome of the talks could be made public but said both the government and Yunus softened their stance towards reaching an "amicable solution" of the crisis erupted after the removal of 70-year old microcredit pioneer from his Grameen Bank.

His comments came as in a related development the 70-year old microcredit pioneer appeared before a five-member government committee constituted in January this year to "review" the Grameen Bank transactions.

Committee's chair Monwar Ahmed Khan said Yunus told the committee that he now was thinking how he could be associated with the Grameen Bank in an "alternative way" as he joined the meeting with his deputy in the Grameen Bank Nurjahan Begum.

Khan told newsmen that the Nobel Laureate economist informed the committee that despite his plan to retire long ago, he could not quit the micro lending agency which he had founded 30 years ago due to earnest requests of the employees.

"The meeting with committee also discussed about the future of Grameen Bank" which Yunus had founded 30 years ago, he said.

A senior government leader earlier last night said no one sided solution to the issue of Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus was possible despite the government's willingness for an "honourable settlement."

"We always wanted an honourable resolution to the issue. But one sided solution to the problem is not possible unless all the sides come forward," local government minister and ruling Awami League's general secretary Syed Ashraful Islam told newsmen last night emerging from a party meeting as approached by newsmen. He declined to elaborate on the issue since the matter was pending for a Supreme Court decision but added that "it was not the government, but Yunus who dragged it to the court."

Islam's comments came amid growing international criticism against Yunus's unceremonious dismissal from the pioneering microfinance bank that he founded three decades ago.

The apex Appellate Division of the Supreme Court yesterday adjourned until April 4 the hearing on Yunus's appeal against his removal from the Grameen Bank amid reports of a negotiation process for an amicable settlement of the issue outside the court.

Despite a green chit issued by Norwegian government reliving him of the allegations, the government formed a five-member "review committee" to examine Grameen Bank transactions but his removal came ahead of the submission of the report by the investigators. The committee chair today told newsmen that they were expected to submit their report in next 10 days to the government.

While, the adjournment visibly allowed both sides to take more time to reach a compromise as insisted by the United States and other major development partners but no progress on the talks was reported by either sides.

Yunus earlier this week told a foreign newspaper he was "not a political threat to anyone" in Bangladesh and would like to resolve issues "if any" with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina as the negotiation process were launched.

"The real issue at stake is the right of the bank's 8.3 million borrowers to control their own financial future or whether they will be forced to cede their control to outside authorities," Yunus said.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith last week said the government looked for ways for an amicable settlement of the Yunus issue as he visibly rallied huge international support behind him since his removal from Grameen Bank last month.

Yunus was fired from his position as the Grameen Bank's managing director last month as the Bangladesh Bank found that his 2,000 appointment as the microlending agency's executive chief was faulty because the central bank's mandatory approval was not obtained at that time.

Amid a massive international and civil society criticism of the decision, the United States last week warned that its relations with Dhaka could be exposed to threats unless Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's government reached a compromise with Yunus.

"If there is no compromise, it will have an effect on our bilateral relations," US Assistant Secretary of State Robert Blake told newsmen at the fag end of his five-day visit to Bangladesh when he met Hasina and several other senior government leaders.

Yunus's experiment of poor men's banking earned Bangladesh the repute of being the home of microcredit and himself the Nobel Peace Prize along with his Grameen Bank in 2006.

Analysts earlier said Yunus's troubles stem from 2007 when he announced formation of a political party, an idea that was visibly unwelcome by Hasina and her archrival Khaleda Zia of BNP, while he himself abandoned the idea within months.

But Yunus's removal came as he apparently developed a growing dispute with the ruling Awami League in recent months after a Norwegian TV aired a documentary questioning the transaction of a Norwegian donor fund violating the agreement.

The government has 25 per cent stake in Grameen Bankh that employs 24,000 people, provides collateral-free loans to eight million borrowers, the vast majority from rural areas after detailed talks familiar with the Grameen Bank activities. [ENDS]

Anisur Rahman, is a journalist based in Bangladesh is with official news agency Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). He is Bangladesh correspondent for Press Trust of India (PTI).

First published in Outlook magazine, New Delhi, India, March 30, 2011