Untold story of Grameen Bank | The Daily Star
11:00 PM, December 07, 2009 / LAST MODIFIED: 11:00 PM, December 07, 2009

Untold story of Grameen Bank

All for one, one for all. Photo: grameen

GRAMEEN Bank is now a globally recognised and admired institution. However, very few people know that Grameen Ordinance Promulgated on September 4, 1983 was the first micro-credit legislation in the world. This ordinance was passed under my government, even though many bankers and bureaucrats were opposed to the idea of forming a separate institution. I have regretted many things in my life, but I still think that Grameen Ordinance was one of the best things that I ever did.
When I heard recently that Professor Ayesha Akhter Munim, wife of (late) General M.A. Munim had passed away; I was reminded of the Grameen Bank project. General Munim was minister of works, agriculture and finally finance under my government. His wife Ayesha Akhter Munim was a longtime professor of physics at Dhaka University.
It was probably during the last week of March 1983 when I was informed by my APS Major Shabab that General Munim wanted to see me. I was surprised to find both Munim and his wife in the sitting room. They stayed with me for about an hour and gave me a briefing about the Grameen Bank project of Bangladesh, and a strong recommendation that it should be supported. They also left some printed information for me to read.
Ayesha was the one who did most of the explanations on the Grameen Bank project and why it was important to support such an initiative. I now wonder if I would have taken Grameen Bank project so seriously if it were not for the Munim couple.
Gen. Munim kept reminding me of the project whenever he met me and had a chance to say a few words. I later asked him, first as minister of works and later as minister of agriculture, for allotment of land at Mirpur for Grameen Bank to establish its headquarters within the shortest possible time.
Later, as minister of agriculture, he arranged allotment of land for Grameen Bank at Potuakhali and Rajshahi as well. Between 1984-88, I visited Grameen Bank branches in several districts, thanks to the enthusiasm of Munim for this project. I found the staff dedicated, hardworking and sincere, and almost all of them came from the rural areas.
I found them working even on holidays. Once I saw many large cooking pots in a branch. The branch manager explained to me that they held regular workshops for women borrowers, and the cooking pots had been rented from decorators to cook meals for members who were borrowers of Grameen Bank.
My government allocated resources for Grameen Bank for its expansion program to cover the entire country at very generous terms, mostly, if I remember correctly, with aid funds from Sweden, Norway and Canada. Grameen Bank legislation was also unique that for the first time in human history a bank was owned and managed (at least in theory) by the poorest women on earth. Initially the share of the Bangladesh government was 75%. Gradually, with the success of the bank, government share was reduced to 25% while I was still in office.
I was very happy when I heard the news that Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank had won the Nobel Peace prize in 2006. I wish Grameen Bank well for its continued support for the poor people, particularly the poor women of Bangladesh, who work so hard day after day without any recognition.
This article talks about Grameen Bank, but I really wanted to talk about the Munims. Remembering this story is my tribute to both Gen. Munim and his wife Prof. Ayesha Akhter Munim. Without their persistence, I do not think I would have ventured into supporting the Grameen Bank. Many have taken credit for helping to establish Grameen Bank, but never General Munim and his wife. So this is my memorial for a very honest, sincere and low-profile couple who got a great job done without ever thinking of any personal return or recognition.
Grameen Bank Ordinance was promulgated by me to establish Grameen Bank on September 4, 1983 when I had had barely completed my first year in office. One should understand how busy I was during those days.
For the capacity building and expansion of the bank I provided, during 1983 and 1990, about one hundred million US Dollar grants and low cost fund (1% interest) as an equity for the rural poor mostly women.
I did this deliberately so that Grameen Bank could provide loans to the poor at a rate that was affordable to the poor at 9-10%. I was assured by Grameen Bank that interest rate would be lowered to the desired level, when the expansion program ended in 1992. But over the years the interest rate went up from 13% in 1983 to 20% after I left office. I tried my best to prevent undue interference by the government, particularly the finance ministry, in the day-to-day operation of the Grameen Bank.
Finally, I leave the judgment to the people of my country and all others around the world who took keen interest in Grameen Bank to decide for themselves the impact of the bank for the elimination of poverty not only in Bangladesh but all over the world, which was facilitated by the Grameen Bank Ordinance 1983, an Ordinance through which institutionalised partnership between the rural poor and government as partners was established.
In the very near future, I intend to write another article for the benefit of the global micro-credit movement before the next micro-credit summit. In the article I would argue that instead of projects and programs both the public and the private sectors ought to seriously consider institutional partnership with the poor to seriously address global poverty and hunger.

Hussain Muhammad Ershad is Former President of Bangladesh and a Member of Parliament.

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