By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
Source: The Daily Star
Published: August 6, 2013
The government of Bangladesh is considering nationalizing and breaking up the widely admired Grameen Bank, which pioneered the business of lending small amounts of money to poor women who want to start and grow businesses. Lawmakers should reject these destructive ideas and stop meddling in the affairs of this important financial institution, which serves 8.4 million rural women.
In the last two years, the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has waged a destructive campaign against Grameen and its founder, Muhammad Yunus, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Her actions appear to be retaliation for Mr. Yunus’s announcement in 2007 that he would seek public office, even though he never went through with his plans.
In 2011, her aides forced Mr. Yunus out of his job as managing director of the bank by arguing that he was older than a mandatory retirement age of 60, even though bank regulators had previously allowed him to stay in the job after he crossed that threshold. Since then, the government has started an investigation into the bank and is now planning to take over Grameen — a majority of whose shares are owned by its borrowers — and break it up into 19 regional lenders.
Although the microcredit model created by Mr. Yunus in the 1970s has lost some of its luster in recent years because of controversial practices by some lenders other than Grameen, the approach remains a vital tool for reducing poverty. It has helped millions of poor women start and sustain small businesses around the world and especially in Bangladesh, according to the World Bank.
Turning Grameen into an arm of the state would jeopardize the bank’s core mission by subjecting it to destabilizing political interference. And breaking it up would make its operations less efficient while eliminating it as an influential national organization that might challenge government policies.
A government-appointed commission studying Grameen Bank is expected to produce a report next week that recommends three different proposals, one of which would nationalize and break up the bank, according to local news reports. Some political analysts say that Prime Minister Hasina might not act on those recommendations until after the country votes for a new government at the end of the year to avoid giving the bank’s many borrowers and employees a reason to campaign and vote against her.
Regardless of when the prime minister makes her decision, she has provided no compelling reason to dismantle one of the most promising credit movements to have benefited millions of women in her country.