Yunus extremely worried over Grameen Bank

Dhaka: Bangladesh`s Nobel Laureate and micro credit pioneer Muhammad Yunus today said he was apprehensive of a government takeover of the Grameen Bank he founded 30 years ago, and was concerned its future might be "endangered".

In a statement issued in Bangla, the 71-year-old Nobel peace prize winner expressed fears that the bank would be taken over by the Bangladesh government though it "runs with its own fund without borrowing any money from the government or from any donor agency". "I believe without doubt that Grameen Bank`s future will be endangered if the government raises its role in the bank by changing its legal structure," Yunus said. The statement came as a government-constituted commission went into a review of the bank`s operations to recommend its future role. Yunus had resigned from the Grameen Bank last year following a protracted dispute with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina`s government.

"I am now extremely worried about the possibility of Grameen Bank being taken into government control. I fear even to anticipate the course that Grameen Bank will take if it is made a government institution. Advise the government to abandon the plan (of taking over Grameen) if the fears that gripped my mind is also generated in your mind," he said, expressing worry over the possibility of the institution being taken into government control. On May 16, the government constituted a panel to identify Grameen Bank`s institutional strengths, weaknesses and constraints and recommend measures to ensure the accountability of management.

The review commission was formed a week after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her two-day Dhaka visit said the US government would not endorse any government action to undermine the achievements of Grameen Bank, which was also a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 along with its founder for its successes in fighting poverty. "Has Grameen Bank committed any major anomalies that required (the government) to set up this probe?" Yunus asked.

"The commission was assigned to review the Grameen operations since its inception until 2010, the entire period when I performed as its executive chief. The period after 2010 was kept beyond the commission`s consideration due to reasons beyond my understanding. (Does it mean) all the problems of Grameen Bank have been solved?" he said.

Yunus had rallied massive international support for himself in his dispute with the government ahead of his resignation last year. In February this year Hasina proposed his nomination as World Bank president, a proposal Yunus rejected. Yunus`s experiment of poor man`s banking earned Bangladesh the repute of being the home of micro-credit. But Hasina had harshly criticised the high interest rates charged by Grameen Bank calling it a "blood sucker" of the poor.

Bangladesh`s central bank fired Yunus in March last year, saying he had exceeded the mandatory retirement age of 60 years. He resigned months later after losing a legal battle in the apex court. Analysts, however, believe that Yunus`s troubles stem from his 2007 attempted foray into politics when he announced formation of a political party. The idea was not welcomed by Hasina and her archrival Khaleda Zia of Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP). Yunus himself abandoned the idea of joining politics within months.

His removal came after he apparently developed growing disputes with the?ruling Awami League after a Norwegian TV aired a documentary questioning the transaction of a Norwegian donor fund violating the agreement. Despite a clean chit issued by Norway, the government formed a five-member "review committee" to examine Grameen Bank`s transactions. His removal, however, came ahead of the submission of the report by the investigators though the probe body too later cleared him of the allegations.