It's a black day | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, August 24, 2012 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, August 24, 2012

It's a black day

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Following is the full text of Prof Yunus' statement on changes to Grameen Bank ordinance:

This day will go down as a black day in the history of our nation. Our government has obliterated the unique characteristics -- one of which is the bank being owned and run by women -- which made the institution universally lauded and a Nobel Prize winner. Thanks to the amendment, the institution has been rendered into another cookie-cutter public organisation. I cannot bear the sorrow.
What has Grameen Bank done to deserve this treatment?
Eighty lakh underprivileged women became majority owners of the institution through purchase of shares with their own funds. They hold 97 percent ownership of the institution, while the government holds only 3 percent. The bank is run by its own resources like a big cooperative. It does not seek any loans or grants from the government, from abroad or from any other organisation. Then why did the government have to turn this universally revered and emulated institution into any other government organisation?
The government mentions that the issue of appointing of a managing director led to a stalemate. But who created this deadlock? The owners of the bank formed a selection committee with the intention to appoint a managing director as per the laws. Since they proposed my name as the chairman of the committee, with Dr Akbar Ali Khan and Khaled Shams being the other members, the board chairman who happens to be the government representative as well did not accept the proposal as the board's decision. It is a peculiar situation. The law did not empower anybody to “veto” the Grameen Bank board. Out of sheer force the chairman proceeded to veto in three board meetings in a row. And this is being described as the stalemate, and is the reason behind the amendment of the law which practically puts the future of the whole bank in the hands of the chairman.
The government has been repeatedly saying, “We did not occupy Grameen Bank, neither are we going to. Mr Yunus is lying. The ownership structure of Grameen Bank has not been changed. The chairman will form the selection committee in consultation with them.” But when is one consulted and asked to vote? It is when the power lies with the voters. Through amendment of the Grameen Bank Ordinance the voting power of the owners has been wiped off and all that has been left for them is the mere task of giving “consultation”. The selection committee then, comprised of the chairman, will put forward three names to the board. Board will have much reason to think that these candidates will work keeping in mind the preferences of the chairman. They will not work for the best interests of the owners of the bank. Whoever they appoint the situation will not change.
The government is saying that all power will remain with the board, but before knowing anything they have made it very clear that what the board members want will not be allowed to materialise. Why it will not be allowed to happen? It is because the power lies with the government. The government has been saying that the “selection committee” will be formed in one week. But whose decision is this -- the board's or the government's? And Yunus will not be there. Why? Because the government has decided. An international advertisement will be placed seeking applications for the post of managing director. Is this the Board's decision? The salary package of the managing director will have to be attractive or else no managing director of international calibre will apply. But is this the board's decision?
Still the government is insisting that it will not intervene in matters of Grameen Bank. The government has already taken so many decisions; now let's see what more it does next.
By amending the law and playing a decisive role in appointing the chief executive of the institution, the government has, in effect, taken over the responsibility of running the Grameen Bank. No case can be cited, from anywhere in the world, where the authority to appoint the chief executive of an organisation owned by thousands of individuals has been given to the 3 percent shareholder.
After the cabinet decided to amend the ordinance I appealed to the people of the country to talk the government out of proceeding with the plan of action. Many people -- via statements, rallies, human chains, mass media discussions and editorials -- have voiced their displeasure regarding the government decision. Especially, many esteemed female leaders of the country, irrespective of opinion and political affiliation, appealed to the government. I thank them all for standing up for the poor women. My only regret is that the government did not pay any heed to those voices.
With this amendment, the glorious days of Grameen Bank are numbered. From now on, the bank that is owned by poor women will be run, directly and indirectly, by the government. Such steps never benefitted any institution in the world.
I am at a loss of words to describe my grief. Numerous workers of Grameen Bank through their lifelong toil have built the bank into a unique institution over the years. Today, seeing the institution crumble like this, they, too, have no place to hide their sorrow. The poor who bought the bank's share with their cash, learnt to call it “Our Bank”, and took pride in it, but now they will learn that it is still their bank but they no longer hold the power to make any fundamental decision over it. The house is mine, I live in the house, but my voice does not count when it comes to running its day-to-day affairs.
I am an optimist. I do not want to become frustrated. I want to hold onto a flicker of hope. Like I did in the past, I once again call upon the people to find a remedy to the situation. I call upon the youth of the country to relieve the owners of Grameen Bank from this nightmare and pledge to return the control of Grameen Bank to the rightful hands. I want the youth of the families of the poor owners to vow that they will return their mothers' properties to their mothers, so that their bank returns to them with their full control over it. I hope a government will emerge in future, setting its priority to restart the bank's glorious march forward by handing over the power to the poor women who own it, through a national function. It will come as a sigh of relief to everyone that day, and the people the world over who are these poor women's well-wishers will be relieved as well.
On this sorrowful day, I cannot find anything to console my mind other than to hold out for such a happy day in the future.

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