Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Nobel laureate Yunus unceremonious exit will affect US-Bangladesh

President Obama highest award for Prof. Yunus

BANGLADESH HAS been overwhelmed by influential statements and foreign visitors expressing concern over the sacking of Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus as head of the pioneering Grameen Bank that he founded nearly three decades ago.

The government is embarrassed when visitors in the Bangladesh capital calls on prime minister, ministers and senior officials and challenges the authority for humiliating exit of Yunus from the village bank, which empowered nearly eight million rural women.

Robert Blake, the visiting US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, has on Tuesday cautioned that if the Yunus issue remains unresolved, it will impact on bilateral relations between Bangladesh and the USA.

Bangladesh media interprets that the US official fresh remark shifting from “should” to “must” on Yunus issue stink of a thinly veiled threat, writes online news agency bdnews24.com.

However, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni scoffed off speculation and said the bilateral relations will continue to remain warm. She understands that Bangladesh is currently USA 64th largest trading partner with US $4.2 billion in total trade during 2008. The USA merchandise goods trade deficit with Bangladesh was US $3.5 billion.

Responding to questions whether the US position on the Yunus issue tantamount to interference in the internal affairs of Bangladesh, Blake said Yunus recipient of American Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal, is widely respected in the United States, with a positive reputation in the USA among many Congressmen, members of the Bangladesh Congressional Caucus, President Barack Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton.

The US state department official said Prof Yunus has brought great honor to Bangladesh, and reasserted that the United States has been “deeply troubled” by the difficulties he is currently facing.

Earlier six influential US Senators Richard Durbin, Sherrod Brown, Michael Bennet, John Boozman, Rush Holt and Michael Enzi sent a letter on Monday and asked prime minister Sheikh Hasina to treat the Nobel laureate with dignity and respect.

Also five bipartisan US Senators Richard Durbin, Sherrod Brown, Michael Bennett, Michael Enzi, and John Boozman, plus Congressman Rush Holt and Thaddeus G. McCotter said they “are troubled by what appears to have been a months-long effort on the part of the Bangladeshi government to discredit Professor Yunus and remove him as Managing Director while increasing government influence at Grameen Bank.”

US Representative Thaddeus G. McCotter warned that this crisis “would severely and adversely affect the cordial relations between Bangladesh and the United States.”

Visiting former World Bank president James D Wolfensohn, also founder member of the “Friends of Grameen” has been understood as final attempt to negotiate a settlement in the conflict between the government and 70-year old Yunus.

The “Friends of Grameen”, an international pressure group whose founder members also include former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and former Costa Rica president Óscar Arias, also a Nobel peace prize winner, believe that the ‘continued attacks against the Grameen Bank and Yunus have been carried out for political reasons.’

Earlier this month, the Bangladesh Bank issued an order seeking the removal of Yunus from his position as the managing director of the Grameen Bank. The matter is currently before the superior court which last week adjourned proceedings for two weeks.

Meanwhile, the appellate division of the Bangladesh Supreme Court last Wednesday adjourned for two weeks after an initial hearing into Prof. Yunus’ appeal of the government-controlled central bank ruling that he must give up his post because the 70-year-old Nobel Laureate has passed the sporadically enforced public sector retirement age of 60.

In another front, Mozammel Babu, a columnist and businessman close to the government, who has recently been involved in setting up a ‘loose group of about 500 people’ called the “Friends of Bangladesh” to try and counter the influence of international pressure relating to Yunus along with other issues, reacted and remarked, ‘This is aggression from the west in the name of Dr Yunus on a sovereign country in applying the law of the land.’ [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is a leading investigative journalist in Bangladesh. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com