Bangladesh's relations with the US are not yet comfortable due to issues tied to politics and Grameen Bank, Finance Minister AMA Muhith said yesterday.
US officials appreciate Bangladesh's development programmes but are not happy about its political matters, he said.
Returning from his 15-day visits to Washington DC and Mexico, Muhith held a press conference at his secretariat office to brief the media on the outcome of the meetings in the US.
“Political pressure is not comfortable and devoid of etiquette,” the minister told reporters, referring to his meeting with a US high official in Washington.
Replying to reporters' queries as to whether the US official broached the January 5 national election, he said, “He tried but I did not allow him to raise it [the matter].”
The US will continue giving financial assistance to Bangladesh as it did earlier though the amount is very small. “The US pokes its nose in different matters but gives less opportunity,” Muhith said, referring to his talks with US officials on various issues.
The government has been trying to improve the relationship with the US but it seems the pressure will continue, he added.
The US opposed the birth of Bangladesh, and its position has not changed, Muhith said. He, however, said Grameen Bank issue had a negative impact on Bangladesh's relations with the US.
The US always raises a storm over any matter relating to Grameen Bank though they have never provided the microlender with any financial assistance.
“Their concern is Prof Yunus who is a very respected person in the USA and they try to ensure that he does not face any disgrace.
“I have said what I always say. We had no intention to disgrace Dr Yunus; rather we wanted to cooperate with him,” Muhith said.
Over the rules made for electing nine directors to the Grameen Bank board, Muhith said Nobel Laureate Prof Yunus had picked the directors through a so-called election for the last 30 years, “which is an utterly undemocratic practice.”
“To stop this undemocratic practice the new rules have entrusted Bangladesh Bank with powers [to hold the elections],” the minister said.
In the first week of this month, the government issued the new Grameen Bank (Election of Directors) Rules 2014, giving the central bank the authority to hold elections to pick nine independent directors. Before this, GB officials used to conduct the elections.
A concern has been raised that the new system will open the door for politicization. Such concerns did not arise when Dr Yunus used to select the directors because he is a respected person, Muhith said.
Responding to a question if giving the responsibility of holding the elections to the central bank was fair, the finance minister said the whole process had been destroyed by Prof Yunus who used to suggest voting his favourites.
“I have taken it [the authority] out of Grameen Bank and given it to Bangladesh Bank to come out of this culture,” Muhith said.
“Bangladesh Bank is a fairly independent institution. Governors are always politically appointed but they are always independent,” he said, adding no one could say that the governors experienced anyone's interference in their activities.
Bangladeshi garment products get duty-free, quota-free access to various countries but not to the US, the finance minister said. The USA is a big export destination for Bangladeshi RMG products but it imposes tax of around 25 percent of export value. Giving an example, the minister said that if Bangladesh earned $3.5billion from the export to the US market, the country had to pay around $800million as tax.
Muhith said he had told the US this was unusual that one of the richest countries of the world was extracting this kind of money from a poor country.