US deeply troubled
Foreign diplomats in Bangladesh have sharply reacted to the government's move to remove Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank and none of them took it positively.
They said they never thought that the government could make such an extreme move against an internationally reputed personality like Yunus.
US Ambassador to Bangladesh in Dhaka James Moriarty yesterday said the United States is deeply troubled by the government removing Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus from the office of the managing director of Grameen Bank and termed it "an unusual way to handle a Nobel Laureate".
"We are deeply troubled by the process here by this letter going forward trying to remove the professor [Yunus]," he told the journalists emerging from a meeting between diplomatic corps, development partners and the finance minister at Bangladesh Secretariat yesterday.
When asked if the handling of the Yunus issue would impact Dhaka-Washington ties, he said, “No comments.”
A spokesperson of the US Embassy in Dhaka told The Daily Star that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton looks forward to meeting Prof Yunus on March 8 in Washington to discuss this and other issues.
The US ambassador yesterday said, "An amicable compromise should be reached. Both Prof Yunus and the government can find the way and work out their disagreement.”
Asked about his reaction, Moriarty said, "It strikes us. It is an unusual way to handle a Nobel laureate, who is considered outside the country as one of the greatest Bangladeshis."
“He has brought great honour to your country. He is highly respected. He has done great things to lift many people out of poverty. So, they have removed him 12 years later on, an issue that is technical and difficult to understand. So, it is troubling," he said.
The US diplomat said, “The process that has been followed to suddenly remove him on a technical issue dating back 12 years and for 12 years he has been acting as managing director… So, it looks very unusual from outside.”
Moriarty said there must be a solution for the people of Bangladesh, the government of Bangladesh, Prof Yunus and Grameen Bank. "We do not have any role to play here," he said replying to a query.
On the outcome of the meeting, the US ambassador said, "The minister gave a very thorough explanation about the government stance. But I would say my government remains deeply troubled."
Earlier, the spokesperson of the US Embassy said, “We continue to follow developments closely and await clarification from the Government of Bangladesh and Grameen Bank. We hope that a mutually satisfactory compromise can be achieved that will ensure Grameen Bank's autonomy and effectiveness. Civil society organisations such as Grameen Bank play an important role in Bangladesh's development and democracy."
The UK in its instant reaction said it is also following the development very closely.
When asked, a spokesperson for the British High Commission in Dhaka said, "We are aware of the event concerning Prof Yunus. We understand this is now a matter before the court. Together with the international community, we are following the development very closely. Grameen Bank is a well known and well respected development institution. We wish to see it continue to play its important role in Bangladesh and globally. We have great respect for Prof Yunus and the work he has carried out with Grameen."
Talking to The Daily Star, most diplomats expressed identical views. They said they are very disappointed and frustrated with the government action.
The diplomats, preferring anonymity as the matter is pending with a court, said Prof Yunus and Grameen Bank are integral parts and both are highly respected everywhere.
A diplomat of an East Asian country said Grameen and Prof Yunus are not only popular in Bangladesh but also in the diplomat's country.
Another envoy termed the government move "apparently vindictive" and said the international community will never take it positively.
Asked about diplomats' reaction at the meeting with the finance minister, the diplomat said the representatives of foreign missions and donor agencies were critical about the government action and made lot of queries and they were not fully satisfied with the explanation given.
Friends of Grameen
Friends of Grameen, an international platform to protect Nobel winners Prof Muhammad Yunus and Grameen Bank, yesterday said the events unfolding over the last few days testify the government's intent to fully takeover the microfinance agency at any cost.
The Paris-based group said the central bank's letter to relieve Prof Yunus of his position in Grameen Bank is without lawful authority and in violation of his fundamental rights.
"The letter, which goes beyond its reach of authority, is clearly an attempt to circumvent the rules of the ordinance of Grameen Bank, and the prerogatives of the board on hiring and firing," the group said in a statement.
Maria Nowak, chair of the executive committee of Friends of Grameen, criticised the finance minister's claim that Grameen Bank is a state organ.
She said the theme has already been developed by the foreign minister early January, to the astonishment of many, when the government has statutorily 25 percent of the equity of the bank.
"The source of this thinking is that there are, close to the government, views that the vibrant social sector of non-governmental organisations in Bangladesh should not exist and its task should be fully performed by the state."
She said the letter by the central bank was issued although a review committee is currently investigating the activities of the Grameen Bank.
"Before it has had an opportunity to conclude its enquiries, the current process appears to be a bad faith, without legal ground, intimidation and a clear violation of Prof Yunus' rights, and designed as such."
Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, is the head of Friends of Grameen's honorary committee.