Central bank to call the shots
The government yesterday approved the draft of the Grameen Bank Act 2013, giving more clout to the central bank to control the microcredit organisation.
Once passed by parliament, the act will replace the Grameen Bank Ordinance 1983, and allow the government to closely monitor the Grameen Bank officials' power to sue the borrowers.
In a weekly meeting chaired by Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the cabinet gave its final approval to the draft act. It will be sent to the law ministry for vetting before it is placed in the House.
According to the proposed law, Bangladesh Bank will be able to issue any rules or order if the bank faces any problem in implementing the act, said a senior official of the Banking Division, asking not to be named.
Grameen Bank has to submit returns, statements and reports to the central bank from time to time, and if Bangladesh Bank asks for any other reports, the microlender has to provide it, says the draft law.
The Banking Companies Act will not be applicable to Grameen Bank, as the central bank will regulate the microlender under the provisions of the new law.
"The law does not say that Grameen Bank has been brought under the central bank's control," Cabinet Secretary Musharraf Hossain Bhuiyan told reporters after the meeting.
"The law has given the central bank some specific responsibilities concerning Grameen Bank."
Asked whether the new law gives more power to the central bank to control Grameen Bank, Musharraf said, "The central bank's power is critically important to ensure discipline in the banking sector. When the central bank is empowered, it is a healthy sign."
Though Finance Minister AMA Muhith publicly said that tax exemption privilege for Grameen Bank would be capped for a certain period, no such provision was included in the draft law.
However, the cabinet secretary said the government would decide on the period for which the microlender would enjoy income tax exemption.
In the cabinet meeting, the finance ministry proposed retaining the Grameen Bank officials' power to file cases under the Public Demands Recovery (PDR) Act.
But a number of ministers objected to the provision, saying the authority could be used to harass borrowers.
The cabinet secretary said Grameen Bank officials would continue to enjoy the power to realise money from borrowers under the PDR act.
"But its execution will be monitored so that borrowers are not harassed and the power is not abused." The government was yet to decide on which agency would monitor it, he said.
Suggesting a major change in the existing rules, the draft law says, both the government-appointed directors and the nine elected directors of Grameen Bank will not be able to stay in their posts for more than three years.
According to the existing rules, the government-appointed directors remain in their posts as long as the government wants.
The proposed law says three government-appointed directors will be able to convene a board meeting if all posts of elected directors are vacant.
Following a court order, the government decided to turn into law the GB ordinance, along with more than 500 ordinances promulgated during the military rule between 1982 and 1986.
The cabinet secretary said those ordinances were given legality recently through the passage of two laws in parliament.
The proposed law also suggests stricter restrictions on the use of Grameen name.
If anyone uses the name of Grameen without written consent from Grameen Bank, he or she would face imprisonment up to one year or a fine of Tk 1 lakh or both, said the secretary.
According to the proposed law, the government's share in the Grameen Bank remains the same at 25 percent, while the remaining 75 percent belong to the borrower shareholders of the bank.
The draft law suggests increasing the Grameen Bank's authorised capital to Tk 1,000 crore from Tk 350 crore, and the paid-up capital to Tk 300 crore from Tk 50 crore.