Grameen Bank Act gets passage
The parliament yesterday passed the much talked-about Grameen Bank Act, 2013, one that elevated the government roles in the running of the microcredit organisation without any increment of its ownership stakes.
“As the Grameen Bank has been running under an ordinance, it was necessary to enact a law,” Finance Minister AMA Muhith said in parliament yesterday.
The government has not brought any changes to the organogram of the organisation out of respect for Prof Yunus, who, Muhith said, has brought much pride to the country by way of his Nobel Peace Prize.
Meanwhile, Jatiya Party lawmaker Mujibul Haque Chunnu questioned why such an important bill was being passed when the national election is knocking on the door. He suggested taking public opinion before the passage of the bill as “interests of many people have been featured in it”.
But the parliament rejected Chunnu's proposal and passed the bill with voice vote.
The new act, which would replace the Grameen Bank Ordinance, 1983, authorises the government to make rules for any aspect of the running of the bank.
The government, however, had the authority in the Grameen Bank Ordinance, 1983 but it relinquished them through an amendment in 1990 and only retained the power to make rules for the election of borrower-directors.
Furthermore, the government added a provision which allows it to take steps to remove barriers to the implementation of the new law. The government's share in Grameen Bank, however, remains the same at 25 percent and the remaining 75 percent belong to the bank's borrower-shareholders.
The managing director of the bank will be appointed following approval from the central bank and the MD will hold office until the age of 60 years, according to the new law.
In a major change, the bank will have to be audited by at least two chartered accountant firms, instead of two auditors each year, to ensure international standards. The bank will then submit the audited report and statement of accounts to the government within three months of the year's end.
A new addition stipulates the bank will also have to submit the return, the audited report and the statement of accounts as per Bangladesh Bank's demand.
The Grameen Bank Ordinance, 1983 superseded any other law, due to which the microcredit organisation enjoyed various tax exemptions. This feature was left out in the new act, meaning Grameen Bank will now get only income tax exemption and that too for the period stipulated by the government.
The new act increased Grameen Bank's authorised capital to Tk 1,000 crore from Tk 350 crore to prevent the need for changing the law in future. The paid-up capital, too, has been increased to Tk 300 crore from Tk 50 crore.
In case of vacancy of all nine elected directors, three government-appointed directors including the chairman will be enough to meet the quorum obligation and sit for a meeting.
According to the law, the GB's zonal manager or an official of equal status will retain the power to file cases under the Public Demands Recovery (PDR) Act to realise un-repaid loans from borrowers.
Under the ordinance, any GB official would have been able to exercise the power. But now the scope has been limited to senior officials of the bank in order to prevent abuse of power.
The law also extended financial fine from Tk 2,000 to Tk 10,000 for individuals who wilfully provide false statement, documents or information to the bank in obtaining loans or other advantages. The imprisonment term remains the same, of one year. The individuals may even face both the financial fine and the imprisonment term.
The new act also said if anybody uses the bank's name in prospectus or advertisement without any written permission from Grameen Bank, he or she would face at least one year of imprisonment or Tk 1 lakh as financial fine or both.
Following a Supreme Court order, the government is turning the Grameen Bank Ordinance 1983 into the Grameen Bank Act 2013, along with more than 500 ordinances promulgated during the military rule between 1982 and 1986.
Nine elected directors of the bank and its 26,000-strong employees' union have protested the new law, saying the changes will only help the government establish control over the bank.
“The objective of the law is to expand the services of the Grameen Bank to the larger group of people in rural areas while keeping the ownership of the government and state-owned agencies intact,” Finance Minister AMA Muhith said while placing the bill in the parliament last month.
The move will also help loan recipients become the bank's shareholders, he added.