Branson Joins Volcker in Urging Hasina Not to Seize Grameen Bank

By Arun Devnath
Source: Bloomberg
Published on: 15 Aug, 2013

Richard-Branson 2127506bRichard Branson and Paul Volcker are among global leaders urging Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed not to seize control of the microfinance lender founded by Nobel peace prize winner Muhammad Yunus.

A panel set up by the nation’s finance ministry is recommending that the government replace officials on Grameen Bank’s board and take control of parts of the business, according to a letter signed by 40 people that was e-mailed to Bloomberg News. Abul Kalam Azad, Hasina’s press secretary, said he wasn’t aware of the letter when reached on his mobile phone.

The letter -- which comes a week after the New York Times published an editorial saying that Hasina’s administration should “stop meddling” with Grameen -- underscores mounting international pressure on her. The conflict between Yunus, 73, who shot to fame globally in 2006 after winning the Nobel prize, and Hasina, 65, has escalated since he signaled an interest in joining politics a year later.

Implementing the panel’s recommendations “could be disastrous,” the signatories wrote in the letter. “They would lead Bangladesh to violate its obligations under bilateral investment treaties, and to compromise the independence that has protected Grameen Bank from political turmoil over the last three decades.”

The panel is due to submit a report on its proposals this week that would include nationalizing and breaking up Grameen Bank into 19 smaller lenders, the New York Times reported on Aug. 6. The government has no plan to raise its stake in Grameen beyond the present 25 percent, Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith said on Aug. 7. Gokul Chand Das, joint secretary of the ministry, said yesterday that the commission had not submitted its final report yet.

Seizure ‘Tragedy’

Grameen, which means “rural” or “village” in the Bangla language, had 8.4 million borrowers as of July, 96 percent of whom are women, according to an Aug. 5 statement on the lender’s website. The bank had lent $14 billion since it began operations in 1976 and had a loan recovery rate of 97 percent as of July, according to the lender’s website.

“The seizure of the Grameen Bank would be a tragedy, not only for Bangladesh, but would also send the wrong message to every other developing country who has followed this proven model to provide loans to its borrowers,” Branson, the 63-year-old founder and chairman of Virgin Group, wrote in an e-mailed response to questions from Bloomberg News. “I urge Sheikh Hasina to take some time to consider these proposals.”

Bair, Levitt

Paul-Volcker-financeBranson was one of the signatories on the letter. Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Volcker, former Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. Chairman Sheila Bair and former Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Arthur Levitt also signed. Levitt is a board member of Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News.

Grameen Bank is “a direct lifeline for more than 8 million people working their way out poverty,” said Kerry Kennedy, president of the Washington-based Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights, who is also a signatory. “This work is possible because of the leadership of Grameen Bank’s board of directors and partners, and their continued independence to operate this bank for the poor,” Kennedy wrote in an e-mail to Bloomberg News.

Kennedy’s father, Robert, was assassinated in 1968 while campaigning for the presidency. Her uncle, John F. Kennedy, was killed in November 1963.

Women Borrowers

Separately, 32 members of U.S. Congress wrote a similar open letter calling upon Hasina not to implement the recommendations, which would “undermine the women borrowers and shareholders who have made the bank such a success.”

The government’s Grameen Bank panel was formed in May 2012 to look into the lender’s legal status and operations about a year after the country’s central bank removed Yunus as managing director. Yunus, who won the Nobel Prize for his work in starting the lender, had breached retirement norms by staying on as Grameen Bank’s head after turning 60, Bangladesh Bank said at the time.

“It’s good news that global leaders are on our side,” Tahsina Khatun, a director of Grameen Bank, said in a phone interview yesterday. “Now I hope the government will listen to them. We have tried to convince the government to let Grameen Bank be as it is.”

Bangladesh Takes Aim at Grameen Bank

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.

Takeover Plan for Microlending Pioneer Grameen Spurs Anger

Published on: 5 Aug, 2013

Bangladesh Plans to Take Control of Bank Founded by Nobel Winner Yunus

The government is set to announce a plan to take control of globally praised microlender Grameen Bank, drawing criticism from the supporters of its Nobel Prize-winning founder and raising questions about the motivation behind the move.

Muhammad Yunus founded Grameen Bank. The government plans to take control of the lender and split it up.

Founded by Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, Grameen has garnered accolades for bringing credit to millions of rural people and showing that microcredit programs—which offer small loans to poor borrowers—can work on a large scale. Its success helped spawn a big international expansion of microcredit in emerging markets and inspired giants such as Citigroup Inc. and HSBC Holdings HSBA.LN -1.02% PLC to dive into the sector.

Under the plan, which could be announced by a government-appointed commission as early as this week, the government is expected to increase its stake in the bank to 51% from 25%, diluting existing shareholders and giving it control of the lender, which is now controlled by 8.4 million rural women who are borrowers and shareholders in the bank.
"This is a suicidal decision," said Tahsina Khatun, a member of the board of directors. "How can the government, which is a minority shareholder, impose its will on us who own the majority? The Grameen model is based on trust. There will be no trust after this."

The move comes as Bangladesh faces criticism for corruption and lax oversight in the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in April that killed 1,100 people. Supporters of the bank say it is relatively well run and has been scandal-free in a corruption-riddled country.

The dispute is driven in part by the rapid growth of Grameen Bank, which is at the center of a sprawling empire that includes 48 companies including the nation's biggest mobile-phone operator and a yogurt maker.

Government ministers say the restructuring is needed to rein in Grameen, boost oversight, and bring the bank in line with the law that underpinned the creation of Grameen in 1983. They say the bank has strayed from its mandate of giving credit to the rural poor by forming multiple companies that have nothing to do with micro-lending. They have also accused Mr. Yunus of enriching himself and his family through the nonlending businesses.

A woman in Savar, Bangladesh, tends to cows bought with a Grameen Bank microloan.

"Yunus holds the position of the chairman of the social businesses set up by him," Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith told parliament last month. "These businesses were set up by borrowing capital from Grameen Bank, but the shareholders were paid no dividends. We want to address this."

Mr. Yunus said in an interview that he didn't own shares in any of the companies bearing the Grameen name and didn't borrow from the bank to fund them. "I did not set up these companies using money from Grameen Bank since that would be a violation of its mandate," he said.

"These companies are either nonprofits or are owned by nonprofits and were set up with the aim of poverty alleviation through social business," he added.

Mobile operator Grameenphone, for example, was started with a loan from the Soros Foundation. The company, a joint venture with Norwegian telecom company Telenor, TEL.OS +0.76% is now the country's biggest mobile operator, a listed company with a market capitalization of $2.6 billion and a 40% market share.

Telenor holds 56% of Grameenphone. Grameen Telecom, a not-for-profit set up by Mr. Yunus, holds 34%, while the remaining 10% trades on the Dhaka Stock Exchange.

A Bangladeshi man stands in front of a poultry farm established with a Grameen Bank microloan.

Finance Ministry officials say the final plan to restructure Grameen is likely to hew closely to an earlier plan calling for the bank to be split into 19 parts serving 19 zones in the country. The government would inject money into the bank to raise its stake to 51%, diluting existing shareholders.

The battle over Grameen is part of a long-running tussle between the government and Mr. Yunus. In 2011, the government engineered the removal of Mr. Yunus, now 73 years old, from Grameen Bank, saying he had passed retirement age.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina famously called Mr. Yunus a "blood sucker" two years ago and has accused him of lobbying against her government abroad.

Critics say the government wants to control all the Grameen companies so it can profit from them and use the bank's millions of clients as a possible vote bank.

Women apply for a loan at a Grameen bank branch in Savar, Bangladesh.

"The government clearly has ulterior motives in trying to take control of Grameen Bank," said Mirza Fakhrul Islam Alamgir, a leader of the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party. "If voted to power, we will restore Grameen's independence."

The government denies it is trying to bleed Grameen of profits, tap its clients for votes or embarrass Mr. Yunus.
Mr. Yunus has drawn support from overseas, including from former U.S. secretaries of state Hillary Clinton and Madeleine Albright. During an official visit to Bangladesh last year, Ms. Clinton said she wanted to see Mr. Yunus's work "continue without being in any way undermined or affected by any government action."

The breakup plan is based on a recommendation from a commission started by the prime minister in May of last year.
The commission also recommended that the original license for Grameenphone be suspended, although it hasn't provided details on what was wrong with the license. The commission's head, Mamun ur Rashid, has called for Telenor to relinquish 16% of Grameenphone—a stake valued at about $415 million—to Grameen Bank, which the government would control if its proposed changes are enacted.

Sigve Brekke, chairman of Grameenphone, who is also head of Telenor Asia, said the company hadn't been officially notified of any government decision and couldn't comment further.

Whatever happens, Bangladesh's "battle of the bank" is likely to keep bruising the country's reputation.
"The Grameen Bank is not broken, so why fix it?" asks Akbar Ali Khan, an economist and former bureaucrat. "Grameen's management model is being replicated [in other countries]. The government must allow Grameen Bank to run without interference."

A version of this article appeared August 6, 2013, on page C1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Microlending Pioneer Faces Takeover.

Nobel laureate Yunus seeks to tackle poverty, unemployment in Japan

By HISASHI NAITO/ Staff Writer
Published on: July 28, 2013

OSAKA--Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, credited with helping millions of impoverished Bangladeshis through microfinance, is turning his attention to Japan, unveiling plans to establish funds that will invest in small ventures tackling poverty, unemployment and other social issues.

Yunus, 73, told The Asahi Shimbun in an interview here on July 27 that he wants to help small businesses, retirees and young people tackling those challenges by organizing funds to assist their efforts in Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka and other major cities.

He said he intends to raise the funding from the affluent, who are willing donors to nonprofit groups and to social causes.

The Bangladeshi economist was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for helping the impoverished escape poverty by providing no-collateral loans in small amounts through the Grameen Bank, which he founded in Bangladesh.

Yunus is a proponent of “social business,” a business model that reinvests all profits back into the company, instead of paying dividends to shareholders, to combat unemployment and other societal problems.

He said the social business model will take two to three years to spread among societies because it is a new vision.

Yunus was attending the Social Business Forum Asia in Osaka on July 27.

HOLT: Bangladesh Government Must Halt Attacks on Grameen Bank

(Washington, DC) Rep. Rush Holt (NJ-12) today issued the following statement on the latest efforts by the government of Bangladesh to control or dismantle the world-famous Grameen Bank, whose microcredit programs have lifted millions out of poverty around the world:

“It is past time for the government of Bangladesh to cease its efforts to destroy one of the true economic marvels of our age: Grameen Bank.  I call upon Secretary of State Kerry to make it clear to officials in Dhaka that America supports Grameen Bank and its work for the poor in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world,” said Holt. “If the government of Bangladesh persists in its attacks on the bank and Professor Yunus, our government should reevaluate the wisdom of our current push to deepen political and security ties to the current government.”

This week, Nobel laureate and Congressional Gold Medal winner Professor Muhammad Yunus published an op-ed in the Dhaka Tribune condemning proposals for a government takeover or outright break up of Grameen Bank, which Yunus founded over 30 years ago to help poor women in Bangladesh and elsewhere create their own small businesses and rise out of poverty by providing small loans at generous terms.

Earlier this year, the Congress awarded America’s highest civilian award, the Congressional Gold Medal, to Yunus for his creation of microcredit and his life-long commitment to fighting poverty. Holt was the sponsor of the resolution authorizing the medal.

“Bangladesh needs more institutions like Grameen, and more pioneers like Muhammad Yunus. It’s past time for the government of Bangladesh to recognize those facts and work with Professor Yunus, not against him.”

Source: tellyseries