Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Banker Yunus banking on emotion defying law‏

SHAMIM CHOWDHURY

WE MUST give credit to Dr. Muhammad Yunus for taking micro financing to world stage and branding Bangladesh as the brand owner and finally wining a Nobel Prize. He may have not invented the idea but certainly he was able to give it a height which no one was able to do before. Because of his personal connection with Hillary Clinton the then first lady current Secretary of State of the most powerful country of the world Dr. Yunus was able to get the world attention.

Dr. Yunus got his first world wide media attention during the first micro summit which took place in Washington where our present PM Sheik Hasina co-chaired the summit along with Queen Sofia of Spain. In the home turf Dr. Yunus got support of the then Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina who went all the way to Washington to unveil Bangladesh brand financial system in first ever world summit on microfinance.

In the early days of microfinance, Dr. Yunus has a success story to tell but not much audience other then few media outlet. The country was going through high trouble. It was couple years after the death of Gen. Zia when Gen Ershad claimed the power overthrowing corrupt BNP government of Justice Sattar. In a state wide televised speech, Justice Sattar claims wide spread corruption in his government and asked military to take over, so did Gen Ershad. Suddenly Dr. Yunus saw some light at the end of the tunnel, military marshal law governments civil Finance Minister Abul Mal Muhit, yes readers, ironically it’s the same person who is our current Finance Minister.

Finance Minister Muhit gave an audience to Dr. Yunus and Dr. Yunus was the speaker, as good orator he was and is Yunus was able to make Muhit understand the value of starting a new bank solely for the poor. Muhit as the Finance Minister was able to get permission of Gen. Ershad to form the Bank name Grameen Bank, a bank for the poor. Ershad’s military regime issued a proclamation establishing the bank and appointed Dr. Mohammad Yunus as its Managing Director, it was 1983 and since then he is the head of this government institution.

It need to be clear that Grameen Bank unlike many other privately owned NGO is not a private entity at all but a government entity with autonomy and Dr. Yunus is nothing but government approved Managing Director of the Bank. Success of Grameen Bank is not just the success of its Managing Director Dr. Yunus’s but the government of Bangladesh and its shareholders as well.

Mohammad Yunus played a wonderful role of mentoring the organization setting its goal. The negative story picks up there where Grameen Bank a bank for the poor changed its role of providing free of collateral cheap loan to the poor especially women to high interest loan sharking business.

A noble cause and idea which started its journey from village Jobra under the stewardship of a young professor Dr. Yunus caught into so-called social business gimmick. Loan to the poor started with no interest climbed to as high as THIRTY percent though in Grameen transaction shows it as twenty percent not showing the actual cost that the borrowers has to bear.

Day by day Grameen involved it self into all sorts of profit making business, telecommunication to making so called energy curd and what not. A brand name Grameen paid a hefty price for that as well not just financially but receiving endless criticism. While the poor people caught into microfinance debt Grameen caught into illegal VOIP business and slapped with hefty punitive fines of hundreds of millions of BDT during last caretaker government and loosing its clean image.

Some people may say Dr. Yunus has no relation to those illegal wrongdoings of Grameen Telecommunication. How ever that notion will not be justified and he had to bear the responsibility. Grameen mobile is a part of Grameen family and Grameen receives a huge stash of profit out of it. So if you accept the profit you have to bear the responsibility as well.

A Nobel laureate like Dr. Yunus never came up with one word to condemn his organizations wrongdoing but keep tight-lipped. His muted unacknowledging attitude of this grave matter did hurt lot of his supporters as well as rest of the nation. Though this is nothing new from him, he kept mum or talked in favor of military and undemocratic rulers as near as past Gen. Moeenuddin-Fakhruddin or Iajuddin government.

Dr. Yunus who started (not really) claiming as the originator/author/owner of this microfinance idea thought about Grameen Bank with same obsession. Like many others who rose to power and fame Dr. Yunus started thinking about him as indispensable and his role as Managing Director as prerequisite for banks survival.

Probably Dr. Yunus himself and many others thought him and Grameen Bank as one and one entity, that thinking process was based on a complete flawed understanding. It is very unfortunate Dr. Yunus did not play an affirmative role on bringing that wrong notion down rather fueled the idea.

A noble idea strangulates to death slowly but surely. A bank that was created to ensure loan to the poor ravenous people of Bangladesh is now hungry it self for fame and ready to play any game. Getting the Nobel Prize whisked away Dr. Yunus into a fairy land of foolishly considering him as indispensable and a savior of the world poor. High ambition and hunger for fame and name ruined his stature and brought him down to earth facing criticism home and abroad.

Grameen Bank was and is an autonomous government entity though it is not just like much other autonomous body but a special one. If the banking law of the country as well as Grameen Bank’s own employee service manual clearly states that all Grameen employees will retire at age 60 then how in the world it is OK for Managing Director Dr. Yunus to violate that law and say I am indispensible therefore I must stay for life and defy any law.

Some Yunus supporter might say there are others too who has crossed that age such as PM her self or others in the cabinet. Yes that is true but that is a whole new subject/concept to deal with. Present law of the land dose allow those position holder to continue their official duty at or above sixty, if you do not like it then go ahead and make effort to change it. But as long the law allows or disallows, you just have to abide by the rule, period.

Dr. Yunus in many of his speech talked about lawlessness in our society and politics but when the time came for him to set the standard he downplayed the law and played his sentiment card and vowed to stay in power as long someone is not able to pull him down.

During caretaker military rule, Dr. Yunus talked harshly about politicians and labeled them as corrupt and promoter of family dynasty. He did talk about fresh leadership to make the difference and now when the question comes about new leadership of Grameen, Dr. Yunus back out and his laughable reply that Grameen will not be able survive without him or there is no one who can assume that responsibility. If so, then it is shame for him that he stayed in that position for couple of decade but miserably or the more correct choice of word would be mystically failed to create a chain of leadership who can and will take new challenges.

Critics say, to keep his tight grip on all matter Dr. Yunus never allowed any new leadership capable of running the organization independently around for too long. Any one who happened to be capable will be removed and a person will be replacing the position with his approval only.

The nine members of the board out of twelve are selected by Dr. Yunus himself and rest three appointed by the government of Bangladesh. Nine members of the board who has been handpicked by Dr. Yunus have absolutely no idea whets so ever of how a billion dollar bank like Grameen runs. They are there no more then to act as rubber stamp to go along with Dr. Yunus whim.

Dr. Yunus has taken full advantage of the disadvantage of his executive board members neophyte of the banking business and ruled the business as he wishes rather then following the business rule prescribed in Grameen’s business policy.

The bank which strictly supposes to land only to the poor’s started funding family owned business defying all rules. Grameen is tax exempted business institution. They do not pay to the government in return they do public service, is this what public service, service to the poor means to Dr. Yunus.

When Grameen Bank’s poor member has to return every singe penny they borrow whether loose or gain otherwise face penalty, intimidation and legal or social boycotts by the group but strangely his family gets a very sweet deal of sharing profit and loss which even commercial banks do not offer other then some Islamic banks. Is this kind justice and honesty Dr. Yunus is talking about while in the international stage.

It is unfortunate that a man of his stature will set such a bad precedence and take ill advantage of his position and international connection to pressure law of the land takes a different course to keep him in his position. It is more unfortunate that now he wants keeps the nations image hostage and play his emotions card once again to keep his position.

It is so childish for him and his lawyer Dr. Kamal Hossain to say that if he was allowed to violate the bank law for ten years then he should not be blamed about it at any letter stage? Does Dr. Yunus mean violation get justified if it was not challenged or corrected in time?

Are we going to say that recent epoch making judgment of high court on nullifying all military rule of seventies and eighties in Bangladesh and declaring it as illegal occupation of power was wrong judgment as it happened thirty years ago and no one challenged it earlier therefore illegal unconstitutional occupation of power by military rulers was justified!

High interest Grameen’s micro credit is nothing but unambiguous rape of frail but lucrative financial body of poor of the poorest especially women. Most vulnerable segment of the society is trapped into Grameen’s loan shark landing microfinance policy, calamitous attempt of the poor to escape from local loan shark known as Mahajan to get caught by institutionalized shark loan lender named Grameen is unfortunate and unwanted.

It’s a farce that the poor of the poorest who need the most low interest finance to change their ill fate are locked into maximum high interest loan up to 30 percent from Grameen while the affluent society gets loan at very low interest some where 10 to 12 percent from commercial banks. Now Grameen might say we are giving loan to someone with no collateral therefore we have to cover our risk. No comments on that as that is a fact, however then question comes, do not call this sort of loan sharking a social enterprise call it what it is.

In U.S. to often you will get advertisement about car loan or housing loan with bad credit or no credit everyone applies everyone gets credit. Those lenders are known in the U.S. as loan sharking institution and they do not challenge it. If Dr. Yunus also agrees that Grameen does the same then their will be no question but question comes when he claims to be doing business of social just. Grameen’s over exorbitant interest rates and alleged coercive debt collection policy has no difference then shark lender of the west.
What is Loan Shark: A loan shark is a person or body that offers unsecured loans at high interest rates to individuals, often enforcing repayment by blackmail or threats of violence. Dose that sounds Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank, Yes it dose. Wikipedia Link explains the characteristics of Loan Shark: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loan_shark

If wants know more about the result of Grameen Loan Sharking business and hide and seek game then go to this link and play the video: http://www.france24.com/en/20080404-bangladesh-burden-microcredit-caring-grameen-bank-mohammed-yunnus

Watching this video will raise very suspicious question what Grameen and Dr. Yunus wants to hide from getting out? Its no wonder anymore why Dr. Yunus wrote a personal memo to NORAD asking help to keep donors fund misappropriation secret, WHY? What he is scared off! Why Dr, Yunus appointed director Noorjahan Begum ask her security to tie the journalist who simply says that he wants to ask some question! Hope one day the poor of the poorest will know about the name of the game.

I just read his public statement (March 7th 2011) where he makes calls to the nation. That is just tricky rubbish. When a case is waiting for ruling, his public statement is a mere attempt to fuel confusion among mass people and pressure on the court to take the verdict in his favor.

He and his lawyers are making every effort to make our justice system look bad that is not right thing to do for a Nobel laureate! He himself went to the court challenging Bangladesh Bank notice of his removal now after three days of deliberation his lawyers are talking saying they might not get justice. Dr. Yunus is following a carbon copy plan of Khaleda Zia after she lost her house and court fiasco played by her lawyer.

Within months of getting the Nobel Prize he applied this same sort of public call/statement technique during last military CTG attempting to grab political power in the vacuum using help from military intelligence unit. I surely hope Dr. Yunus stop this uncalled technique and keep faith on system.

I certainly hope Nobel laureate Dr. Yunus will come into his sense and do what is good for the Bank and its poor borrowers not just looking at self interest. Reduce the interest burden from the poor and be a real benevolent banker of the poor. Above all, he will abide by the law of the land as any other ordinary citizen and not claim especial stature just because of he is a Nobel laureate. #

Shamim Chowdhury is an social activist and lives in Maryland, U.S. he could be contacted veirsmill@yahoo.com