Arguments at court
Appearing for Prof Muhammad Yunus, eminent jurist Dr Kamal Hossain prayed for a ruling on the government to explain why the Bangladesh Bank's "letter of removal" should not be declared illegal. He also prayed for a stay order on the effectiveness of the central bank's letter.
Nobel laureate Yunus at the High Court yesterday challenged the legality of a March 2 government letter to "remove" him from the post of Grameen Bank's managing director.
Dr Kamal told the court that Bangladesh Bank issued the "notice of removal" without issuing any prior show-cause notice, and without giving his client scope to defend himself.
He said the Board of Directors of Grameen, and not Bangladesh Bank, is the appointing authority for the microfinancier, which is a separate specialised institution.
The central bank did not appoint Yunus as the MD of Grameen, and the central bank cannot remove him from that office, he said.
The Board of Directors of Grameen decided in 1999 and again in 2009 that Yunus, who is the founder of the institution, may hold the office of the MD as long as he wishes, Dr Kamal pointed out.
“The Bangladesh Bank has a very limited role to play, which is to accord prior approval to the appointment of the MD. In the case of Dr Yunus, the Bangladesh Bank had given such approval long ago in 1990. Later in 1999, the Bangladesh Bank queried the issue of whether Grameen Bank had obtained further approval,” he said.
“The Grameen Bank responded to these queries, and Bangladesh Bank raised no further objection.”
For over 11 years, the central bank annually and regularly approved Grameen activities and operations and the orders, now challenged, came after these 11 years of no questions being raised and no show-cause notice having been issued on Yunus, the lawyer said.
Bangladesh Bank audits Grameen Bank every year, but until Wednesday it never objected to the decision of the board of directors, he said.
Even the government representatives in Grameen Bank until Wednesday never questioned the matter, he added.
Dr Kamal said until Wednesday the central bank never directed the appointing authority to "remove" Yunus from the office either.
Bangladesh Bank's issuance of the notice for "removing" the Nobel Peace Prize winner from his post goes against thousands of years of civilisation and public interest, said the lawyer.
“Grameen Bank is a unique institution, and one which we are proud to say is owned almost wholly by poor women from across rural Bangladesh, who have changed their lives and those of their children and communities. We have come to court on behalf of nine of the elected directors of Grameen, and for Dr Yunus, whose vision gave the bank its shape and form,” Dr Kamal said.
“Prof Yunus has helped to change the face of Bangladesh, and to change millions of lives for the better. All we ask is -- why should he not be treated with respect and dignity?” he said.
Grameen has come to its present position with the deposited money of more than 80 lakh women, who are the shareholders of the institution, Dr Kamal said. The shareholders are the owners of Grameen Bank and will decide whether their founder will remain in office or not, he added.
The senior counsel said his client approached the court for a legal remedy, as the finance minister and finance secretary told the media that the matter is a legal issue.
The writ petition will not cause any financial loss to the government, he added.
Attorney General Mahbubey Alam opposed the writ petition, saying that Grameen Bank was established as per Grameen Bank Ordinance 1983, and according to its Section-36, the retirement age of its officials is 60. This provision is applicable to Muhammad Yunus as well, he argued.
The attorney general said Yunus is now around 70, and according to the Section-36 of Grameen Bank Ordinance, 1983, he cannot hold the office of the managing director.
Replying to the attorney general's argument, Dr Kamal Hossain said Section-36 of the Grameen Bank Ordinance, 1983 is not applicable to Yunus, as there is no age limit for his retirement according to Grameen Bank's service rules of 2001.
Mahbubey Alam went on to argue that as per Section-45 of the Banking Companies Act, 1991, Bangladesh Bank has a general power to remove any person from Grameen Bank.
But Dr Kamal replied that Section-45 of the Banking Companies Act, 1991 was not exercised in "removing" Dr Yunus, as the "letter of removal" did not mention that section.
Dr Kamal Hossain was assisted by lawyers Rokanuddin Mahmud, Sara Hossain and Mostafizur Rahman.
An HC bench of Justice Mohammad Momtaz Uddin Ahmed and Justice Gobinda Chandra Tagore started hearing the petition around 12:30pm, and concluded it around 5:00pm with a lunch break for an hour.
It fixed March 6 for delivery of the verdict.
Yunus, who filed the petition yesterday morning, was present in the courtroom during the hearing.
Around noon, nine elected members of the Board of Directors of Grameen Bank filed another writ petition with the same HC bench against the Bangladesh Bank's "removal letter".
The nine petitioners are Rahima Begum, Nasima Begum, Jyotsna Begum, Anwara Begum, Rozina Begum, Julekha Begum, Sajeda Begum, Sundari Begum, and Safia Begum.