Civil society leaders yesterday condemned the government move to curtail the autonomy of the Nobel winning Grameen Bank as an undemocratic decision that they believe would give negative signals to the world.
The cabinet approved of an amendment to the Grameen Bank Ordinance 1983, which would reduce the power of GB board, giving more authority to the chairman to choose its new managing director.
"It is a move in the wrong direction and is unlikely to help preserve the autonomy and integrity of Grameen Bank," said Prof Wahiduddin Mahmud, a noted economist.
The success of the microcredit organisation came mostly because of its unique institutional structure, he said, adding the bank is created and empowered by a government statute and yet its management and board can function autonomously within its statutory provisions.
The government should ensure that those statutory provisions are not violated, the economist said. He, however, said he believed the proposed changes were aimed at concentrating power at the government-appointed chairman to an extent that is beyond the norm of any corporate culture.
The move would most likely change the basic character of the institution, undermining the authority of the board in which over eight million members have majority representation, said Prof Mahmud.
The government has become hostile towards Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus, civil society members said, referring to the cabinet's order to the finance ministry to carry out an investigation into the facilities he had taken as managing director of the GB since he had passed the retirement age of 60 until his resignation in May last year.
The GB members should have given the authority to run their organisation, said Akbar Ali Khan, a former adviser to caretaker government. Nearly 97 percent shares of GB are owned by its members.
Akbar described the government move as "nationalisation of GB" that would hamper the interests of the members.
Also a former cabinet and finance secretary, Akbar said the cabinet rarely dealt with such issues.
"The country's impression outside the world will seriously be affected," he noted.
Hafizuddin Khan, another former adviser of caretaker government, said the government's move to take control over the GB board was motivated.
"The board should enjoy the authority to run the Nobel winning microcredit organisation," he said.
Hafizuddin, a member of the Trustee Board of Transparency International Bangladesh, also criticised the government's decision to probe the issues involving Prof Yunus during his extended period in the bank.
"It is to harass him [Yunus]," he said, giving an opinion similar to that of Akbar Ali Khan that those issues were not supposed to be discussed at the cabinet meeting.
With the latest move, the government proved that it wants full control over GB, said Hossain Zillur Rahman, executive chairman of Power and Participation Research Centre.
Zillur, another former adviser of caretaker government, said the government had claimed that GB was a state-owned organisation, but its move to take control of it proved that their previous argument was wrong.
The government speak of public-private partnership, but its decision about GB and Prof Yunus would discourage the private sector to work with it.
"It will create a crisis of trust in future economic initiatives in partnership with the government. It is setting a bad precedent in economic partnership in Bangladesh," Zillur said.
He said he hoped the government would have second thoughts before implementing its decision.