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David Roodman's Microfinance Open Book Blog


I recently received an update on the Grameen Bank and the other Grameen organizations. The sender clearly has a point of view and asked to remain anonymous. But the text contains enough that is (for me) novel, factual, documented, and important that I think it worth sharing. Beyond the links provided, I cannot in general vouch for the accuracy of the text:

First and foremost, this matter needs to be put in the perspective of the overall crisis in Bangladesh, where the government is attacking civil society directly and indirectly, through intimidation, corruption, just-approved changes to the constitution (most notably the elimination of the caretaker government provision to ensure fair elections along with other changes, some of which symbolically or structurally will further concentrate the power of the current government), threatened changes to the law governing the activities of NGOs which would mandate government approval of NGO board members required (among other troubling ideas), insider trading and illegal profiteering by people close to the government amidst a collapsing stock market, ongoing harassment of Transparency International Bangladesh and other good governance groups, and much more....

For a summary of the issues as they related to Grameen and its founder, Professor Muhammad Yunus, through mid-October, please visit here. Since then, things have gotten worse....

Recent developments include:

  1. At a recent gathering of the members of the Grameen Bank board of directors who are not appointed by the government (they are Grameen Bank borrowers who are elected by their peers), they were physically harassed and intimidated by representatives of the government and the ruling party.
  2. The government has illegally overturned the near-unanimous (11-1) decision of the Grameen Bank board to form a CEO search committee headed by Prof. Yunus (and with the remaining member being highly qualified individuals), and appointed its own committee instead and made it clear that the Grameen Bank board must accept its nominee or face “consequences.”
  3. With apparent support from the government, about 100 dismissed employees of Grameen Bank recently invaded the Grameen campus, took up a microphone and spent hours disrupting the work environment by demanding that the interim CEO resign, that Professor Yunus and [acting director] Nurjahan Begum leave the campus, that all 54 Grameen companies be consolidated under Grameen Bank (despite there being no justification under local law that this take place), and that they all receive their jobs back. The police did not intervene.
  4. Public (and widely reported) accusations by the Prime Minister and others that Grameen Bank founder Professor Yunus was behind the World Bank’s suspension of disbursement of its $1 billion loan for the Padma Bridge Project due to corruption, despite the fact that the country’s Finance Minister has said there is no evidence Prof. Yunus played any role. [... at least until the Prime Minister apparently forced him to eat his words.--DR]
  5. Most recently, the government has convened a committee to begin the process of consolidating (which is to say, taking over given their other plans) the 54 Grameen companies under Grameen Bank. As has been widely reported in the media, the roughly $1 billion in shares of GrameenPhone that Grameen Telecom owns is clearly of interest to the government, particularly as it contemplates its re-election campaign. In an article just published in the local media, the government claims that Grameen Bank is charging 27% interest despite independent verification that it is charging 20% (or less) on all loans, and uses this as a basis to amend the Grameen Bank ordinance (despite the Finance Minister’s recent public statement that this would not happen) and consolidate the various Grameen companies.

At a recent microfinance meeting held in Spain, some 50 Bangladeshi attendees met with Professor Yunus and many reported that they were afraid to meet him inside Bangladesh, as would certainly be noted by the intelligence services and lead to them being harassed.

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