Bangladesh's image has been dented due to the government's "removal" of Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus from Grameen Bank, Finance Minister AMA Muhith admitted yesterday.
"It has not lifted the country's image at all, but we had no other alternative," he told journalists after a meeting with top foreign diplomats and representatives of Bangladesh's development partners in Dhaka.
Foreign diplomats at the meeting expressed deep concern over the government's "removal" of Prof Yunus from the post of managing director of Grameen Bank he founded three decades ago.
They raised a number of questions as the government used a technical issue dating back 12 years to unseat Prof Yunus.
Muhith said they had tried hard to reach an amicable and respectable solution that could not be achieved in the end.
Muhith sat with the diplomats to make clear the government's stance on Grameen Bank and its founder, who jointly shared Nobel Peace prize in 2006.
Top representatives of the USA, Japan, Australia, the European Union, France, Denmark, China, Canada, Germany, Sweden, South Korea, Norway, and development partners such as the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank were present at the meeting.
Meeting sources said the top officials of the USA, the UK, Denmark, Norway, World Bank and the IMF spoke and raised questions. US Ambassador in Dhaka James F Moriarty said his country remains deeply troubled by the Bangladesh government's decision.
Prime Minister's Foreign Affairs Adviser Gowhar Rizvi, Economic Adviser Moshiur Rahman, Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes, Economic Relations Division Secretary Mosharraf Hossain Bhuiyan and Banking Secretary Shafiqur Rahman Patwari were also present.
The diplomats questioned why the government has taken action 12 years after Yunus was reappointed and rushed to a conclusion while a probe committee is looking into the details of the overall position of the bank and its management.
They also wanted to know what the government would do with Grameen Bank and also about its future.
Muhith said the government had been thinking about appointing a new managing director to Grameen Bank since March last year.
"We were in constant talks. He also made some proposals and we continued discussions."
"I even told him [Yunus] that if he resigns from the post, he will be involved in the transition process," Muhith said.
"I thought that he would accept the proposal. But he said he wouldn't resign. He reasoned that if he resigns, Grameen Bank would collapse."
"But I do not think that Grameen Bank will collapse if he resigns, as it is a powerful organisation," the minister said.
Muhith blamed local media for making "mountain of a molehill" after the Norwegian TV channel broadcast a documentary on November 30 last year that accused Grameen Bank of mishandling aid money.
"You have exaggerated the issue, which created a stir in the world media," he said referring to a section of Bangladeshi press that was particularly vocal against the microcredit pioneer.
"We have tried hard to protect his reputation and the country's image," Muhith said.
The minister refuted claims that the government is out to silence Yunus, a potential political rival.
"Yunus moved to launch a political party in 2007 but backed off. Now he is no longer involved in politics. How can he be a rival to the largest political party in the country?"
"We do not have any grudge against him," he said.
Muhith said he does not think that Yunus' removal from Grameen Bank would affect Bangladesh's diplomatic relations with any country.