Prof Muhammad Yunus, founder of Bangladesh’s Nobel-winning microcredit organisation — Grameen Bank (GB) — yesterday urged stakeholders and government of the country not to take any step to change the legal structure of the GB.
In an open letter to the borrower owners of Grameen Bank, Yunus, who along with the Grameen Bank won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work making small loans to poor entrepreneurs, expressed his fear that steps were afoot to alter the management system of the bank.
The Bangladesh government on May 16 constituted a four-member commission to probe Grameen Bank and its 54 associated organisations, and make recommendations on how to run the organisations in future.
“I can see clearly that the future of Grameen Bank will be at stake if the government increases its role in the bank’s management by amending the legal structure,” Yunus said in the 24-page letter.
The terms of reference, given to the commission, raise fears that Grameen Bank will never be the same again, according to Prof Yunus.
The commission has been assigned to identify Grameen Bank’s institutional strengths, weaknesses and constraints over the 27 years from its inception in 1983 to 2010.
Yunus said the poor women were the real owners of the bank and they had the supreme authority to make decisions on the bank.
“To take away the decision-making power from the poor women and their ownership would derail Grameen Bank from its mission,” said the founder of the bank.
Any step to change the current structure of the bank will turn it into another government run or directed bank which will destroy the unique nature and character of Grameen Bank, said Yunus.
The Nobel laureate stressed the need for keeping up the current law, management structure and work policy through which Grameen Bank had become one of the renowned organisations around the world.
“Grameen Bank is a disciplined bank. If it becomes a government organisation, different conflicts and vested interests, including politicisation and bureaucratisation, may infiltrate the bank,” Yunus said.
He questioned how it would be possible for the commission to complete its huge task with its inadequate manpower in just three months.
“If the commission gives wrong advice due to time constraints and lack of experience in the field of micro-credit, the consequences might be terrible for poor Bangladeshi women, who own 97 percent of the bank,” he said.
“This type of task is usually given to the best researchers of the best research organisations as a long-term project. To prepare the inquiry report, it is necessary to confer with people who have set up and managed such organisations. It is also necessary to talk to such organisations and those who are familiar with its operations.”
About the other organisations, Yunus said, Grameen Bank did not establish any organisation itself as the law does not permit the bank to do so.
Yunus said he had created many organisations on his own initiative to address problems surrounding education, agriculture, communication, electricity and health.
“There are reasons behind the creation of these organisations. When we go to work with poor people we have to face many problems besides loans,” said Yunus.
“When I faced problems, I created a company as a way of solving them. I got such a mechanism in place so that they could operate from their own earnings and without counting on others. In that way, if any company fails, it will not take others down with it,” he said.
These companies have not been created for anyone to earn profit from them. There is no scope for making personal profit from these organisations, he said.
“I have no share or ownership in Grameen or any of these companies. I also have no share in Grameen Bank. So there was no scope for me to get profits from these companies, neither before nor now.”
Yunus said there should be a national consensus about Grameen Bank as it is an organisation of national pride.
“Regardless of your political affiliation or profession or age or any other circumstance you may find yourself in, we can make an effort together as citizens of Bangladesh to convince the government that changing the legal structure of Grameen Bank will most definitely be a wrong decision,” he said.