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The Need for Statesmanship-Rehman Sobhan March 15, 2011

Posted by bdoza in BANGLADESH, ECONOMY, GOVERNANCE, POLITICS.
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Rehman Sobhan, the Chairman of Centre for Policy Dialogue, a think tank for Bangladesh policy issues has presented a discourse that published in the Daily Star on the present complicacies related to Grameen and Dr. Yunus and has outlined a way out from the present situation for the consideration of the Prime Minister herself.
The article is worth reading. It is one of the finest on the issue. Following is the concluding part of the article:

From confrontation to statesmanship

‘The spokespersons for the government, in their recent public pronouncements, have stated that the government has no political quarrel with Yunus. All they wanted to do was to preserve the rule of law. I would like to take these declarations on behalf of the government at their face value. If, indeed, the only issue was the rule of law then the principal deviation from the law, as cited in the Bangladesh Bank order, was the failure of the Grameen Bank to seek prior approval of the Bangladesh Bank in their reappointment of Yunus as managing director in 1999. The Bangladesh Bank raised this issue in its Annual Audit Report of Grameen Bank, which gave a full reply to the queries in the Report.

If the Grameen Bank’s reply was at all problematic for Bangladesh Bank or the GoB, the Bangladesh Bank could easily have sent further notices to the Grameen Bank to formally correct such a legal anomaly. The Bangladesh Bank, during the tenure of three democratic governments, two caretaker governments and four governors who held office from 1999 to 2011, sent no further notices to Grameen Bank. This sustained silence by the Bangladesh Bank was quite reasonably interpreted by Grameen Bank as the acceptance of their response to Bangladesh Bank’s audit report and the validation of the Board’s decision on their continuation of Yunus’s appointment as managing director.

Even today, there was nothing to prevent the Governor of the Bangladesh Bank from sending such a notice to Grameen Bank before seeking to remove Yunus from office. Grameen Bank could have explained its actions and/or it could have sought an approval for the continuance of the appointment of Yunus. The Bangladesh Bank could then have accorded its approval if it thought that Prof. Yunus was running the bank efficiently, based on positive reports of the Bangladesh Bank audits of Grameen Bank over the last 12 years. Why such a sensible step was not taken needs explanation. We are, consequently, witnessing these legal encounters which do not greatly enhance the credibility of our institutions of governance nor are they likely to resolve this needless crisis.

So where do we go from here? Given the historic role of Yunus to the development of Grameen Bank, the confidence he generates among its investors and the corporate asset value of his name, such observations as indicated by the finance minister or the Local Government Minister, Ashraful Islam or even by Yunus himself, of providing Yunus with an “honourable exit” from the Bank, appear to overlook the central issue, which is the well being of the Grameen Bank and the livelihood of its millions of members. About the last thing anyone with the best interests of the Bank and its 8 million members in mind, would want is the “exit,” graceful or otherwise, of Yunus from Grameen Bank.

Any precipitate move to oust its founder could shake the confidence of its members in the Bank and expose it not just to a withdrawal of their savings but even a default on their debts. Such a run on Grameen Bank could have a contagion effect which could jeopardise the financial stability of other micro-finance institutions across the country. The relevant issue to be resolved is, therefore, not Yunus’s exit but the terms and conditions which should govern his continuing role in Grameen Bank until he chooses to withdraw from any institutional involvements.

Under the prevailing circumstances what may be a sensible way forward? Prof. Yunus has already suggested such a path. At the age of 70 Yunus still has the energy and creativity of a young man. Even if he were to withdraw completely from Grameen Bank, he chairs a variety of Grameen branded institutions dedicated to serve the resource poor. He can mobilise millions of dollars from both international development agencies as well as Fortune 500 companies to partner any of these or further ventures he sets up. A person of his energy, reputation and fund raising capacity should, thus, be irrevocably bound to the Grameen Bank with hoops of steel and age should not be seen as a bar to his involvement.

Indeed, in Bangladesh as in many countries, age is no disqualification to discharging responsibility. Bangladesh’s finance minister is 78 years old. Our planning minister is nearly 80 years old. Several of the ministers or ministerial level appointees serving the prime minister as advisors have either crossed or are approaching 70. The prime minister as well as the leader of the opposition have led their respective parties for 3 decades, longer than Yunus’s tenure as Managing Director of Grameen Bank.

All these public figures should have long been retired if the attorney general’s declaration in court, that 60 was a universal retirement age, would have been recognised. Fortunately, all the above figures appear to be in the prime of life, enjoy the confidence of their party and government and appear quite capable of carrying on as long as they are willing to do so. To, therefore, apply some arbitrary age limit to the active engagement of Yunus with an organisation he has created from nothing, is neither fair nor good business.

In point of fact, Yunus himself, has declared that he is no longer interested in managing the day to day affairs of an organisation as large as Grameen Bank. He has repeatedly stated he wants to step down and hand over the position of CEO to a professionally competent person, selected through a fair search procedure, who can command the confidence of the millions of members who own the Bank.

In order not to shake the confidence of the members in the continuity of the organisation and to retain the presence of their most valuable capital asset with the Bank, ideally Prof. Yunus should be invited to assume the Chairmanship of the Board of Grameen Bank. In this capacity his presence will perpetuate the global reach of the Bank and retain its access to the policymakers of Bangladesh and the world as well as to the financial community. This would greatly reassure the Bank’s 8 million members that their most prized asset remains engaged with the organisation which embodies their livelihood and life’s savings. Any reluctance to accept such a logical and constructive solution to this gratuitously destructive confrontation would indicate to the world that other variables, unrelated to the interests of Grameen Bank, are in play.

The person who should initiate this constructive conclusion to this regrettable and damaging episode in our history should be none other than the prime minister, who could hardly be insensitive to the concerns of the millions of women who own Grameen Bank or to the political consequences of their alienation. Nor could she be unaware of the domestic political and diplomatic capital so painfully accumulated by her, which is being squandered over an issue which is quite peripheral to her immediate political agenda.

The time has come for the prime minister to re-evaluate the politically costly advise being fed to her. She has already demonstrated her maturity and statesmanship in her decision to resile from her government’s unwise decision, based again on poor advice, to take over Arial Beel. She should now decide to put this unsavoury as well as destructive episode over Grameen Bank behind her and move on.

This may be done through an invitation to Prof. Yunus to meet with her and the finance minister, where all the misgivings she may have accumulated about Grameen Bank and Prof. Yunus should be discussed in a spirit of constructive engagement. The prime minister should then personally invite Prof. Yunus to assume the Chair of the Board of Grameen Bank and for them to open a new chapter in the relations between the state and Grameen Bank. Under such a dispensation the search for a managing director of international stature should be initiated.

Within such a spirit of reconciliation, the prime minister should perceive Yunus not as her adversary, which he obviously cannot be as she is the democratically elected leader of the country, but as an asset in the building of a din bodol where poverty and injustice can be banished from Bangladesh. The measure of a leader is the ability to transform her perceived adversary into an ally. The measure of a statesman is a leader who can join hands with her adversary in building a better tomorrow for the generations to come.’

For the full article, please click
http://www.thedailystar.net/newDesign/news-details.php?nid=177696

An ordinary citizen

Comments»

1. Mariam Ispahani - March 27, 2011

Nice one, thanks for sharing!


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