Room still there for compromise
US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert Blake yesterday said “there is still room for compromise” in resolving the issue arising from the removal of Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus as the Managing Director of Grameen Bank he founded.
“Such a compromise will also allow us to continue very good progress that we made in our bilateral relations,” Blake told journalists after an hour-long meeting with Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes at the Foreign Office.
Blake, on a four-day visit to Bangladesh, met with the foreign secretary after a call-on with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina earlier in the day.
"I had a very good, productive and constructive meeting with Prime Minister Hasina,” Blake said in reply to a question. “We discussed a wide range of issues on our bilateral agenda. We also discussed Dr Yunus and I expressed our hope that a compromise will be found that will ensure the integrity and independence of the Grameen Bank.”
Blake said, "I will leave it to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her team to describe their position. I hope a successful resolution can be found.”
A US Embassy press statement issued after Blake's meeting with Hasina said, “They discussed a full range of bilateral and multilateral issues, including counter-terrorism, economic development, regional and global security, and civil society.”
It said, “They reiterated their respect for Dr Muhammad Yunus and expressed hope, shared by the US Congress and the public at large, that an agreement could be achieved and that nothing would be done that might damage the effectiveness and integrity of Grameen Bank.”
Sir James Wolfensohn, former president of the World Bank, also attended Blake-Hasina meeting, the statement said. Wolfensohn is in Dhaka to discuss microfinance in the region, it said.
According to Prime Minister's Office sources, Foreign Minister Dipu Moni, PM's Foreign Affairs Adviser Gowher Rizvi, Ambassador at Large M Ziauddin, Principal Secretary to the PM MA Karim, Secretary to the PM Mollah Waheeduzzaman and US Ambassador in Dhaka James F Moriarty were also present during Blake's meeting with the prime minister.
Asked if Prof Yunus issue came up in the talks, PM's Press Secretary Abul Kalam Azad said, “no comment.”
On Saturday, Blake met with Leader of the Opposition Khaleda Zia. After the meeting, he told journalists Washington expressed concern about the way the removal of Yunus has been handled. He hoped Yunus issue would be resolved amicably and said he and Khaleda held the same view.
Early this month Bangladesh Bank dismissed 70-year-old Yunus as Managing Director of Grameen Bank saying he was holding the post illegally beyond his 60-year retirement age. Yunus challenged the removal in the High Court, which upheld the central bank order.
Yunus then filed an appeal against the HC ruling with the Supreme Court. After a hearing on March 15, the full-bench of the highest court deferred the hearing by two weeks.
Yunus' removal sparked criticisms at home and abroad. The US said it was “troubled” by this, and called for an honourable treatment of Yunus.
In his media briefing yesterday evening, Foreign Secretary Mijarul Quayes said Blake shared with him some thoughts to settle Prof Yunus issue.
Quayes did not provide details, but said he would share those with the finance ministry which he said is the competent authority to deal with the issue.
He however said he told the US official that the matter is now pending with the Supreme Court, and it is difficult to comment further.
Quayes said the government has nothing to do anything about it now.
The foreign secretary termed Bangladesh-US bilateral relations matured partnership with convergence of values and engagements. "Our relationship is at the advanced stage," he said.
GOVT WANTS TO SHOW RESPECT YUNUS, SAYS MUHITH
Meanwhile, Finance Minister AMA Muhith said Yunus can stay with Grameen as an emeritus fellow, not as a managing director or chairman.
"Acknowledging his contribution, the government wants to honour him. He can stay as an emeritus fellow at the bank," the minister said.
Muhith spoke after a meeting with Blake at the Economic Relations Division.
Muhith said the proposal to Dr Yunus asking him to stay aside as the managing director during a government probe into the microfinance bank's activities is still 'on the table'. "He can accept the proposal if he wants."
On the meeting with Blake, Muhith said the US wants a respectful solution to the Yunus issue.
"He (Blake) wanted to know whether any solution can be reached before the Supreme Court gives its verdict on an appeal by Dr Yunus."
"I told him that the settlement of the issue is not in the hands of the government. Yunus has filed the appeal and he has to withdraw it before any agreement can be reached," the minister said.
Muhith said the US is anxious about the process of removal of Yunus as he is a person respected across the world. The US also expressed that the process of excluding Yunus was not decent.
"We also said the process of removal was not decent, but it would never have happened if he had resigned," he said.
The minister ruled out the possibility of appointing Yunus as Grameen chairman -- a solution proposed by the Nobel laureate himself to ensure a smooth handover of leadership to the next managing director.
"Yunus must leave the post of managing director. A committee has been formed to look into the issue of Grameen Bank. It will also look into the restructuring of the bank. We will have to wait until the committee submits its report," Muhith said.