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Yunus Centre’s Response to News Reports about Comments Reportedly Made by Honorable Prime Minister about Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus

Yunus Centre’s Response to News Reports about Comments Reportedly Made by Honorable Prime Minister about Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus

Several daily newspapers have reported  Honorable Prime Minister's alleged remarks about  Nobel Peace Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus on 5 May, 2015 at the meeting of the Executive Committee of National Economic Council.  

We have been shocked by the alleged comments, since they are both incorrect and misleading. We hope that the Honorable PM did not actually make these comments, but we are responding to each of the quotes attributed to her, since they have been published widely.

Honorable Prime Minister (as quoted in news report):  Dr. Yunus influenced Hillary Clinton to cancel the fund for Padma Bridge from World Bank due to the conflict with me and my government. He is harmful to the nation.

Our response: Professor Muhammad Yunus had already given a statement, when Honorable PM first made the allegation, stating that Padma Bridge is a dream of the people of Bangladesh, and that he would never stand in the way to realize that dream.  It is therefore out of the question that Professor Yunus asked Hillary Clinton to use her influence to cancel the Padma bridge loan. He would never do such a thing against the interest of Bangladesh. It is shocking that Honorable PM is quoted as making such a statement without presenting any proof of the truth of such a statement.

Professor Yunus has dedicated his life to creating institutions that work for the people of Bangladesh. His work and contributions have been recognized throughout the world through the award of Nobel Peace Prize and many other prizes.  He has always promoted Bangladesh and its successes, and has helped to put Bangladesh on the map as a model for development and poverty reduction. To state that he is harmful to the nation is very unfortunate.

All the remarks attributed to Honorable Prime Minister in the media came during the presentation of the Implementation Monitoring and Evaluation Division on Grameen Fisheries & Livestock Foundation's which concluded that the organizations "methods had failed to help the poor."

Our response: The conclusion of the IMED report on Grameen Fisheries programs is totally unfounded. Grameen Fisheries leased ponds to develop fisheries from the government in 1986 for a period of 25 years, before handing them back to government in 2010. During the time of its management, Grameen Fisheries developed derelict ponds and water bodies into fisheries increasing the number of ponds under fish culture from 339 to 615, and fish production from 46 tons to 20,400 tons, by the time the project was handed back to the government.  Income from the sale of fish went up from Tk 12.87 lakh to more than Tk 70 crores, by the time of hand-over back to the government. This was well run and highly successful project, whose future became uncertain after the ponds were returned to the government in 2011, on expiry of the lease agreement.

Honorable Prime Minister (as quoted in news report): Grameenphone was supposed to be a joint venture between Grameen Bank and Grameenphone. Dr. Yunus sold share of Grameenphone.

Our response: Grameenphone is in fact a Joint Venture Company. One of the owners of Grameenphone is a Norwegian company Telenor which is owned by the Norwegian government. The second owner of Grameenphone is Grameen Telecom which is a non-profit company registered under section 28 of the Company’s Act which has no private owner. The other owners of Grameen Phone are the numerous investors/shareholders of Bangladesh who continually trade its shares in the stock market. Professor Yunus never owned any share in the past, nor does he own any share now, of Grameenphone. Therefore question of his selling any share does not arise. Grameen Bank did not own any share of Grameen phone at any time. So the question of Grameen Bank selling shares of GP does not arise. Grameen Telecom did not sell any its shares except in case of selling shares to general public as agreed by all partners of Grameenphone.

Grameen Telecom operates the Village Pay Phone program to give poor women entrepreneurs the opportunity to sell phone services in the village. Hundreds of thousands of women are engaged in this program and make good income from the program. Because of the path breaking work of Grameenphone telephone services today is so affordable.  A mobile phone is now within the reach of most people in Bangladesh even in the remotest areas.

Profits from Grameenphone that come to Grameen Telecom, a non-profit company, are used for projects that support the welfare of the common people of the country.  

Honorable Prime Minister (as quoted in news report):  Poor people are getting stuck in microcredit system's trap. It charges high interest rates. Its dominant approach is commercial. Grameen Bank's 54 associated companies and organizations bearing the Grameen name paint the picture of how the poor are getting caught in the debt trap.

Our response:  Grameen Bank and programs similar to it operate all over Bangladesh. The model is replicated around the world and many impact studies have shown that microcredit provides opportunities for poor people to improve their lives through loans that do not require collateral, where regular banks do not provide access to finance to the poor. Of all microcredit organizations’ operating in Bangladesh, governmental or nongovernmental, Grameen Bank’s interest rate is the lowest. "Microcredit trap" does not exist in Grameen Bank. Its borrowers around the country highly value the service provided to them.

GB is overwhelmingly owned (75 percent) by borrowers. They are majority members of the board. There is no scope for the bank to harm its owners.

Grameen Bank disbursed 1.1 Trillion taka since inception. During last twelve months alone (April 2014 to March 2015), Grameen Bank disbursed Tk 13,670 crore to borrowers as loan. Total savings of all the borrowers together in Grameen Bank was Tk 10,595 crore as of March 2015 while outstanding loan on the same date was tK 9025 crore. Borrower’s money in the bank exceeded the amount they owed to the bank. Not many banks can claim such a record.

According to one major daily, Honorable PM is quoted giving example of a woman she knew who borrowed Tk 5000 but was asked to pay Tk 16000. This is not possible in Grameen Bank as GB rules do not allow total interest to exceed total principal under any circumstances. On death of a borrower all outstanding loan is written off. GB offers pension fund, educational loans for children and helps during the time of disaster etc. Moreover, as shareholders they receive dividends from the profit of the bank every year since 2006.

The 54 companies that Honorable PM has referred to are independent companies with independent financing. None of the companies have any investment from Grameen Bank so they cannot be called Grameen Bank's companies. These organizations do not operate micro-credit programs, so it is not clear why looking at these companies would indicate how poor people “remain trapped in".

It is shocking that Honorable PM is quoted to have made  allegations of such a deeply serious nature about a reputed person such as Professor Yunus without presenting any proof against any of the allegations.

There are important implications of Honorable Prime Minister’s comments for the country and personally for Professor Yunus. They create wrong impressions in the minds of people within  and outside the country. We have responded to all of these allegations and issues elaborately before. Media has carried all our responses in details. We are sorry that same allegations keep on resurfacing without any reference to our responses. We are bringing out the facts once again to set the records straight.