Sunday, May 8, 2011

BANGLADESH - Who Framed Yunus?

In December 2010, Muhammad Yunus, the microcredit pioneer, founder of Grameen Bank and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, was treated for "leech" by Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh. She accused him of profit at the expense of the poor by locking them into debt. The unsubtle indictment of the leader of the government against the biggest celebrity in the country was sparked by a documentary, I Fanget Mikrogjeld [Prisoner of microcredit], released in Norway November 30, 2010.

Microcredit as a model to fight against poverty was harshly criticized. Local authorities have decided to take action. On 2 March, the central bank issued a letter in which Yunus has just fired from his position as CEO of the bank. Yunus has petitioned the High Court in Dhaka to obtain the annulment of that decision, but it was upheld on the basis that he had exceeded the age limit of 60 years prescribed by the Banking Law [Yunus has appealed March 9 with the Supreme Court of Bangladesh.

It denied the motion and confirmed his dismissal on April 5]. These attacks against Yunus have several implications that go far beyond him. What will happen to the Grameen Bank? Will it be fully nationalized? The Grameen Bank is an institution unique in so far as it belongs to its 8.3 million borrowers, who are its shareholders and 9 representatives on the board of directors, which has 12 members.

It is feared that after the dismissal of the government puts Yunus of Grameen Bank and Trust will therefore destroy what makes success. With 8.3 million poor borrowers, 95% women, with a monthly provision of 10 billion taka [95 million] loan, the bank is a huge institution. Remains the big question of the future of microfinance itself.

If, as claimed by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, microcredit is not helping the poor but the results further into the spiral of debt, what will happen to other microfinance institutions? The government of Sheikh Hasina will he eventually impose lower interest rates to microcredit? The problem of high interest rates is one of the favorite subjects of those who want to denigrate Yunus and the Grameen Bank.

Far from being a true reflection, the question of interest rates has given rise to populist debates. In fact, one of the "crimes" which are accused Yunus is not to show his support for a particular political party, and even of being "hostile" to the current government. One thing is for sure, Professor Yunus will remain forever in the heart of Bangladeshi people as the man who wowed the entire planet with its efforts in the fight against poverty and as one who has won his country the greatest respect and highest honor.

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