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Friday, March 4, 2011
OP-ED

When the target is Prof Yunus

We need to understand that, the way he is being removed is not acceptable under any circumstances. Hossain Zillur Rahman has said, this is not in public interest and it is devoid of any sign of good governance.

The Indian Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha met jointly on December 9, 2009 to attend a lecture by Dr.Yunus. On the occasion, Indian Prime Minster Manmohan Singh addressed Dr.Yunus as a respected friend and said that to be in his company was a privilege. At one point in his emotion packed speech, he said: "We have a lot to learn from the winner of Nobel Peace prize in 2006. And I again salute his work and his presence amongst us."

A year later, a number of Bangladeshi dailies carried a completely different report. It stated that the Indian premier had made a scathing criticism of Dr.Yunus and his micro- credit project. The Indian High Commission in Dhaka immediately protested this news, terming it baseless. Surprisingly, none of the newspapers felt the need to publish the protest letter from the Indian High Commission.

Propaganda against Dr.Yunus took a severe turn. A documentary by a Norwegian TV alleged that the founder of Grameen Bank had violated the condition of grant by transferring fund from Grameen Bank account to a sister concern without permission from the donor. But the said documentary never complained of corruption, embezzlement or misappropriation of fund by Dr.Yunus. Nonetheless, some newspapers with reference to this documentary raised such allegations. Afterwards, the Norwegian government conducted a fresh investigation of the matter and said that the issue has been settled decently. And it did not include anything about corruption and misappropriation of fund.

Unfortunately, the matter has not been settled decently in Bangladesh. The Bangladesh Premier termed Dr.Yunus a ‘blood sucker of the poor' and commented that the issue of micro-credit should undergo massive scrutiny. Then followed criticisms by various policy makers of the government. Malicious reports and commentaries were published against Dr.Yunus in different news media known to be pro-government. Cases were filed against Dr.Yunus in different parts of the country the way it is done against opposition political leaders. When in February 2011 a foreign Nobel laureate Amartya Sen was being honored by the government, our lone Nobel winner was found running for bail in different courts of the country.

The final blow came on March 3, 2011. Dr.Yunus was removed from the post of managing director of Grameen Bank through a letter from the Bangladesh Bank. In TV talk shows that evening, I saw people, not even distantly related to the law profession remarking that the removal was done lawfully. A teacher of history department of Dhaka University asked if there was any success story at all of Grameen Bank in poverty alleviation. Before that, another teacher of Dhaka University, who is placed in a reputed organisation of the country, commented that through the Social Business programme Dr.Yunus is only cheating the poor.

It was after the PM’s criticism of Dr.Yunus that many individuals in responsible positions have joined the chorus without information, evidence or reason.

Government investigation against Dr.Yunus is currently in progress. Cases are in the court. Simultaneously, Dr Yunus is on trial by a section of the media. He has brought laurels for the country by founding an organization, a concept and a modality. We should have shown more restraint, patriotism and responsibility while criticising him. Before standing against him, we should have shown more maturity considering the interest of the people and the image of the country.

But does it mean Dr.Yunus is above criticism? Certainly not. He is not beyond criticism, and definitely not above the law. Mr. Badruddin Umar has been criticizing Dr. Yunus for a long time. He is not concerned with which government is in power or when the PM is displeased with him. When the best universities of the world have opened Yunus Center and micro-credit departments and are studying his thoughts, some people in Bangladesh have indulged in vilifying him without valid evidence.

Attacks by state institutions have become more dangerous than personal criticism. That is so also in the letter of Bangladesh Bank that removed him. I have seen in the media two reasons proffered as grounds for his removal as Managing Director of Grameen Bank. Firstly, prior approval of Bangladesh Bank had not been obtained before his appointment. Secondly, he passed the retirement age of 60 a long time ago. To my mind none of the two reasons is applicable in the case of Dr. Yunus. Grameen Bank is run by Grameen Bank Ordinance – 1983. As per Article 36 of this Ordinance, the board of directors of the bank is empowered to formulate necessary rules for efficient functioning of the Bank. According to Article 14 of the 1990 Grameen Bank (Amended) Ordinance, the rules do not need prior approval of the government. Basing on that, the Bank had formulated a rule on November 19, 2001 which stipulated that there would be no age limit for the tenure of service of the Managing Director, and that the service rule of the Bank would not be applicable in his case. If these rules are not invalid, then the Bangladesh Bank cannot remove him on grounds of prior approval or age. Grameen Bank has been operating according to these rules for the last ten years and the Bangladesh Bank has been conducting business with Grameen Bank without declaring these rules illegal or taking any legal measures in this regard. If Dr. Yunus had to be removed legally, then it was necessary to have these rules declared illegal by the court or have those annulled by the board of directors.

Questions can be raised on the legal authority of Bangladesh Bank to remove Dr. Yunus. According to General Clauses Act, only the appointing authority can terminate an appointee. It is the board of directors that appoints the Managing Director, Bangladesh Bank may either approve or reject the appointment. We ask why the Bangladesh Bank has accepted his appointment for the last 10 years if the conditions of his appointment, laid down by Bangladesh Bank in 1990, were violated in 2001. According to the Principle of Estoppels the central bank cannot take a different position after 10 years.

It would have been appropriate for Bangladesh Bank to convey its opinion to Grameen Bank and advise action accordingly. The Bangladesh Bank could have gone to the court if the board of directors did not relieve Dr. Yunus from his post. Bangladesh Bank does not have the authority to directly terminate him. The central bank has not been given any such powers by the ordinance under which Grameen Bank functions. The fundamental principle of justice and fair play is that the person be given notice and be heard before he is terminated. In the case of Dr. Yunus, even this has not been followed.

Some in the government are also saying that Dr. Yunus should leave because he has attained the age of 70, or that it is not proper to hold on to a post permanently. Some of them are older than Dr. Yunus or of the same age. This argument should be also applicable to those that have been appointed on contract after being recalled from retirement. We feel it is not age but, for the sake of public interest and interest of the institution, competence and leadership that are important. Has Dr. Yunus lost competence or is Grameen Bank’s growth being hampered in any way due to his age?

On the contrary, the Grameen Bank's importance is growing all over the world with every passing day.

One of Dr.Yunus’ failures is that he could not create any successor. But the same is also true of many other highly placed people of the country. Dr Yunus too could not make any unique exception to that, but it would be better if he could do so. It would be advisable if the government and the Grameen Bank could go for a legal reform in any other way, in order to effectively and permanently use his image, wisdom and experience in Grameen Bank or any of its affiliate organisations. It is possible even now to do that in a respectable manner.

Different respectable organisations, institutions and individuals have condemned the action. The development partners have since long raised objection to the way Dr.Yunus is being attacked. It is only the government that stands to lose and not Dr.Yunus or the Grameen Bank. It is the image and interest of Bangladesh that are at stake. And hundreds of thousands of beneficiaries of poverty alleviation programme are now under threat. Our concerns lie there.

The writer is professor of Law, University of Dhaka

Translated from Bengali from Prothom Alo by The Daily Star.

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