The government has issued a rule that transfers the power to appoint members of Grameen Bank board from the microlender itself to Bangladesh Bank, a move that sends the embattled organisation further into the state's grip.
The central bank will form a three-member commission to elect nine members of the 12-member board, as per the Grameen Bank (Election of Directors) Rules 2014, which took effect immediately.
The three-member body would comprise a BB executive director, who would serve as the chief election commissioner. The other two posts would be filled by one of the general managers of Grameen Bank and a director of Microcredit Regulatory Authority.
Finance Minister AMA Muhith earlier claimed there were no electoral rules for Grameen Bank, but the government actually formulated them on August 25, 1987, which were followed to date. As per the previous rule, the Grameen Bank board picked an official of the bank to conduct the elections.
Although the rule was published on April 6 on the website of the BG Press, senior officials of finance ministry's banking division, the concerned department, were unaware of the new rule at the time of writing.
Meanwhile, both experts and elected members of Grameen Bank fear the system might politicise the bank.
Akbar Ali Khan, a former chairman of the bank, said the election system should have been finalised after discussions with borrowers, members, and other stakeholders.
“If the new rule is acceptable to them, there will be no politicisation of the bank. But if they don't accept the new rule, it will create distortion. If the bank is politicised, it will be destroyed,” he said.
Tahsina Khatun, a member of the Grameen Bank board, said the new rule would create problems for the bank.
“If the government wants to introduce general elections-type voting then the whole voting process would turn into anarchy. Politics and corruption will creep into the bank. As a result, the consequence of the bank will be that of other state-run banks.”
She said, by giving the central bank power to conduct elections the government is actually taking control of the bank. “We are fine with the current system. We don't need the new one,” she said.
However, except for conducting the election the new rule is similar to the previous one. The chief election commissioner will appoint one official of the central bank to work as returning officer in each of the nine constituencies.
The constituency is the third and final stage of the three-tier election where members of Grameen Bank are elected as board members. Officials of the scheduled banks near the regional centres will be appointed as assistant returning officers to pick winners for the constituency level.
The returning officer will appoint one official from the scheduled banks under his or her own area as the presiding officer or assistant presiding officer.
As in the past, the election of Grameen Bank will be held in three stages: constituency, regional and branch.
In the election at the constituency level, BB officials will work as the presiding officer and assistant presiding officers. In the past elections, all election officers were appointed from among the officials of Grameen Bank.
Under the new rules, the election commission has been given all-out power to compel the election officials to discharge their polls duties.
If any official shows reluctance to discharge election duties, the election commission may direct the bank authorities to suspend him and initiate departmental case against the person. The three-member panel will organise the election within the next six months.