Nine elected board members of Grameen Bank yesterday outright rejected the report on the microcredit organisation by a government-sponsored commission and said it was unfounded and ominous.
The members, comprising the majority of the 12-member board, also urged the country's women to reject the report, saying the commission is not only anti-poor but also anti-women.
â€œIt is ridiculous, what [the report] says,â€ the nine directors said in a written statement.
"It acknowledges that we, the poor women, own 97 percent of Grameen Bank's shares -- and yet it claims that we are not the owners of the bank and that the nine elected directors from this contingency will be asked to step down from the board soon."
These directors vowed not to give up on their ownership rights -- not without a fight.
"The government has bought only 3 percent of the shares, but now it is claiming that we are not the owners even though we own 97 percent of the shares. Will we let it go so easily if somebody catches fish from our ponds?"
The directors went on to say that not a question was raised about their ownership or membership of the board until this interim report from the government-appointed commission.
Led by a former secretary, the four-member team submitted an interim report last week to the finance ministry on the activities of Grameen Bank and the 54 legally independent organisations bearing the Grameen name.
The commission, formed in May last year, faced criticism.
The deadline for submitting the report was extended twice due to the long absence of one of its members and resignation of another.
The inclusion of a reputed lawyer also raised some eyebrows, as he had represented Bangladesh Bank in its case against Prof Muhammad Yunus, the founder of Grameen Bank, after he was controversially removed from the bank in 2011.
The board also questioned the commission's suggestion that aspirant directors would have to pass at least Class-7 exams to become a member of the board.
"We, the poor women, could not sign our name when the bank was set up, but thanks to Grameen Bank we have learnt to,â€ the directors said.
They said they have been running the bank irreproachably with â€œhonesty and due diligenceâ€ for 36 years now.
"Neither the Grameen Bank review commission nor the Grameen Bank Inquiry Commission could unearth irregularities of even one taka."
The nine directors assert that they have actively participated in all Grameen Bank board meetings, contrary to the claims of the commission report.
"How could we have run the bank or won the Nobel Prize without our voices being heard? How could we have turned the bank into an ideal one without our input?"
The statement said no one from the commission ever visited a Grameen Bank branch or spoke to an elected member of the board.
"And now, they are deciding the future of our bank.â€
The commission tried to assure that Grameen Bank's money would remain safe, according to the statement.
"If the government takes away the bank from our control and turns it into a government bank, will anyone believe them?â€
The majority of the board members also expressed surprise at the commission's claim that the Grameenphone Ltd owes Tk 6,000 crore to Grameen Bank in profits.
â€œYou cannot find anywhere in Grameen Bank's account statements since its inception that Tk 6 is owed from Grameenphone, let alone Tk 6,000 crore."
The directors said the country's top audit firms routinely looked into Grameen Bank's book but they never mentioned the amount that is apparently due from Grameenphone.
"The Grameen Bank governing body and the current chairman never mentioned it at the board meetings, not even at the latest one on February 14. Bangladesh Bank presented its review report at the board meeting but they have not talked about it."
The nine board directors also questioned the commission's suggestion about holding the election under the leadership of a person not related to the bank.
"No allegations of lack of transparency have been raised so far about the election process. No case has been filed until now. Even so, the press and electronic media have not published or broadcast anything in this regard."
"Has the system of fair election evoked envy in anybody with the result that it has to be ruined? We do not have any problem with the election process. Why is there so much interest in creating problems?"
The board members also contested the commission's claim that only 5.4 lakh members have bought shares.
â€œWhere did it get such information? As a matter of fact, 54 lakh members have bought shares at Tk 100 each."
They also dismissed the commission's comment about the â€œnegligibleâ€ presence of elected members at board meetings.
"This is totally wrong. No one can cite an instance where this [insignificant attendance] has been the case. It would not be an exaggeration if we say our presence at the board meeting is hundred percent."
The statement also said the commission has not felt the need to meet the elected board members as a group or individually for once to listen to what they have to say or write to them.
"But the commission happens to have met only males, many of whom do not have any idea about Grameen Bank."
The nine board members also chastised the absence of a woman member in the four-member commission formed to investigate the activities of the bank.
"Ninety-seven percent of the members of the bank are females. The lives of about one crore poor women have been changed for the better by this bank. Yet, not a woman was included in the commission. Unbelievable!â€