Feature Img
Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus, founder and director of Grameen Bank, speaks during a panel discussing microfinance at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 21, 2010. Photo: Reuters
Nobel Prize Winner Muhammad Yunus, founder and director of Grameen Bank, speaks during a panel discussing microfinance at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York September 21, 2010. Photo: Reuters

It appears that our foreign minister did not quite grasp the diplomatic fallout it would cause with the United States by the unceremonious sacking of Nobel winner Muhammad Yunus from the Grameen Bank.

“It’s not logical to affect the Dhaka-Washington ties over the issue of Prof Yunus”, Dipu Moni said at a press conference on March 4, while commenting on the visible discontent of the United States ambassador James F Moriarty, who expressed “deep concern” at the manner Yunus was ousted.

Diplomats normally work under very tight brief and they are well known for their reticence in making statements about the country they serve in.

So it was quite obvious the depth of anger the American administration felt when Moriarty told reporters about his government’s reaction over the sustained campaign spearheaded in recent days and his subsequent sacking by the government of Sheikh Hasina.

Moriarty’s public comment clearly indicates it would definitely have an impact on US-Bangladesh relations. Dipu Moni is right on one count though; the American reaction would not be swift and virulent. For instance, it is unlikely Washington would recall its ambassador or severe diplomatic ties with Dhaka. Nor is it going to put a travel ban on senior Bangladesh officials including prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

So how is the United States going to punish the Hasina government? My sources in Washington say the first impact would be felt by the Bangladesh diplomats serving in Washington who are most likely to face the music in their encounters with American officials.

Second, many bilateral issues including the most pressing one on getting duty-free access of Bangladeshi exports to the US market would simply languish and won’t make any headway in the near future.

Third, the positive image that Bangladesh is desperately trying to project as a country at the forefront of fighting poverty and women empowerment would come under serious scrutiny.

One might argue that the United States is too big a country to waste its precious time and energy on an insignificant country like Bangladesh, especially at a time when it’s deeply preoccupied with many immediate foreign policy concerns, particularly in the Middle East.

In a way that’s a valid argument. But the Grameen issue is far more serious, if not a national issue for the United States but because some very powerful people have taken a personal interest in the matter.

And the most important of them is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She’s just not another member of the Obama cabinet. She’s a real heavy weight and as president Obama remarked at the state dinner for Chinese president Hu Jintao at the White House recently, “Hillary is the most outstanding secretary of state in the history of the United States”.

So it is quite extraordinary for someone of that stature and influence in the US administration to make a personal phone call to prime minister Hasina expressing her concern about Yunus, who she said on many occasions is a long time family friend of the Clintons. And she did so despite the fact that she could squeeze some time out of her extremely busy schedule to make the phone call.

Moreover, Yunus is not just a close family friend of the Clintons; he is also a highly respected figure in America recognised by the fact that he was recently awarded the country’s highest civilian award.

What has especially endeared Yunus to Americans in particular and the rest of the world in general is his modest lifestyle and incorruptible reputation, especially in a country known to be one of the most corrupt in the world. Unlike many chief executives of microfinance institutions and nongovernmental organisation, Yunus never wears a suit and tie even when he’s meeting presidents, prime ministers and kings.

In one of my many interviews with him, I once asked why he doesn’t put on a suit, especially when meeting foreign dignitaries. “It would be hypocritical. I should project myself the way I live in my own country”, he told me. “I work with poor people and I should not wear anything that would make them feel I’m not one of them”.

When I first met him years ago, I was struck to see his modest office with ordinary furniture with no sofa and air conditioners, something highly unusual in a country known for sweltering summer heat. Yunus still lives in a modest apartment inside the Grameen Bank headquarter in Mirpur and moves about in a microbus.

All these qualities, besides his pioneering work in poverty alleviation have also made him a darling of the international media. The outpouring of sympathy generated by his ouster in the foreign media is simply extraordinary.

Here in the United States, The New York Times and The Washington Post — two most influential papers — have made quite a splash. So has the venerable British weekly magazine The Economist.

What’s most damaging for the Bangladesh government is the not so subtle message the international media has conveyed: That the whole campaign against Yunus has been the result of personal vendetta of prime minister Sheikh Hasina.

In its current issue The Economist bluntly put the blame on her.

Fourteen years ago, in Sheikh Hasina’s first term of office the situation could not have been more different. In February 1997, as co-chair of the Microcredit Summit Council of Heads of State and Government, she declared that “We in Bangladesh are proud of the outstanding work done by Professor Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded.”

He has demonstrated to the world that the poor have the capacity to productively use even a small credit and change their fate [sic]. The success of the Grameen Bank has created optimism about the viability of banks engaged in extending microcredit to the poor.

So one might have expected her to be pleased when, nine years later, Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel peace prize for those very achievements. But as Economist reports, Sheikh Hasina had long before come to think that she herself was due the prize: not for microcredit-anything but for signing the Chittagong Hill Tracts treaty, also in 1997, which brought an end to almost two decades of fighting. Egged on by sycophants, she sent senior civil servants around the world to lobby for her nomination, unsuccessfully.

Instead, suddenly, Mr Yunus had become by far the most famous Bangladeshi in the world, usurping even the prime minister’s late father, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, who led the country to Independence in 1971. According to those who know her personally, this was a bitter pill for Sheikh Hasina to swallow.

Given the reputation and credibility The Economist enjoys, Bangladesh government should be deeply concerned about its standing, especially in an interconnected world.

I’m not in a position to make a judgment whether Sheikh Hasina was personally responsible, but her public comment about Yunus as a “blood sucker of the poor” definitely conveyed her personal grudge against the Nobel winner.

It’s a pity that our leaders still do not get over the obsession with personal likes and dislikes and put the country’s interest above everything else.

I wonder why men like the finance minister AMA Muhith and her economic adviser Mashiur Rahman could not restrain her from making such derogatory comments and wait until the outcome of the ongoing investigation against the Grameen Bank was over.

But then what do you expect out of these bureaucrats-turned politicians, who have done nothing except parroting—Yes Sir (read madam) in their entire career.

Last but not least, I’m not suggesting Yunus is indispensable and he’s above the law. But there should have been a more dignified way to deal with the issue.

Moreover, I’ll fault Yunus for not stepping down on his own even before the controversy began and for not grooming a successor to replace him.

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Arshad Mahmud is a senior editor and Washington Correspondent for bdnews24.com.

35 Responses to “Dipu Moni is wrong”

  1. AZAM MAHMOOD

    Congratulations Arshad for another excellent piece !!

  2. Rashed Ahmed

    It is only a stupid government that can do what the Hasina Government did. She has some of the most stupid people in her cabinet and government of whom Dipu Moni is one and the Attorney General is another. If Dipu Moni thinks that it is ok to insult the US Secretary of State, well then what can one say of her? On diplomatic knowledge, she would find it difficult to compete and even find an entry into the lowest rungs of the diplomatic service. It is sometimes not necessary for a foreign minister to be a master of the arts of diplomacy. When he/she is not one,he/she must be a top level politician. Dipu is neither and yet we have made her the Foreign Minister. So I would not be inclined to be critical of her but question the sense of those who put her there!

    And the Attorney General? Well if there is a limit to the stupidity of someone holding such a post, our AG has crossed that limit by setting the cat out of the bag when he said that the Noble Prize that Dr. Yunus got should have gone to Hasina and Larma! If anyone was looking for a reason, he has given that; it was greed and jealousy of our Prime Minister that has done Dr. Yunus in! Unfortunately the sycophant’s brigade surrounding Hasina believes that the CAG is right; that Hasina should have received the Noble Prize for the Chittagong Accord!! Little do these sycophants know that for a Noble Peace Prize for the Hill Tracts Accord, she must share her prize with the Indian Prime Minister who arm twisted the Shanti Bahini to sign the Accord! The Accord was a gift by India for a pro-Indian political party that the Awami League is.

    The events surrounding Dr. Yunus has shown that the country is in the hands of people who are in mental paralysis. It is time for the rest of the country to pray, not for Dr. Yunus who must bear some of the responsibility for his present predicament, but the leaders of our government, the Prime Minister in particular, to be relieved of their mental paralysis.

  3. M B Rahman

    Lately, Sheikh Hasina and some of her cabinet members are trying hard to denigrate Dr. Yunus by calling him interest taker, greedy, corrupt, etc. One of her self-righteous cabinet members very recently has claimed publicly that Grameen Bank or Dr. Yunus has not played any role in alleviating poverty rather because of him many people have become poor.

    What a shame! Those who are blaming Dr. Yunus, I would like to ask them what they have done to eradicate poverty from Bangladesh.

  4. Halima Neyamat

    I don’t know why we all are so concerned about Dr Yunus’ position in Grameen Bank… what is the big deal and what is the American government’s problem … don’t they have other things to do?

  5. Anwar Iqbal

    Arshad Bhai;
    Very well said. There is always something good comes off of the bad vibes. I believe this will initiate the begining of the end of nasty politics and mean politicians in our dear motherland.

  6. Sabrina Islam

    The reason isn’t microcredit. It isn’t the retirement age. LA Times article on reason behind Yunus sacking.

  7. Jahangir Hossain Majumdar

    I think there is no problem at all with Prof. Yunus and Grameen Bank. The problem is with their image. Some of us are jealous of his achievement. I must appreciate Dr. Yunus for his patience and soft role. Grameen Bank undoubtedly need him.

  8. Jahangir Hossain Majumdar

    This government appears to be very expert in diverting issues. They are just trying to turn public attention from the share market debacle.

  9. Nehal Babu

    How do we explain bdnews24.com’s coverage of the issue from the very beginning? bdnews24.com always headlined Yunus not Grameen Bank for the story even when the topic is organisational not personal. We expect bdnews24.com be more objective and setting standard unlike other news organisations.

    • Sayed Chowdhury

      I still think in this matter bdnews24 exposed the truth. The fact is Yunus did transfer the fund in breach of contract. The fact is Yunus has demonstrated a poor ethical conduct by making Grameen enter into a questionable deal with his family business of which he is still an active director. He has ran Grameen in a most autocratic way. The Bank controlled by him has never been transparent with data/information and almost always declined researchers, including PhD students and academicians, access to data for independent evaluation – unless they belonged to his syndicate. He even refused to be interviewed by the documentary film maker, whose documentary was eventually broadcast by the Norwegian TV channel.

      Well, some people now argue that he could be given an honourable exit. Read his letter to Muhit. He will only relinquish if he is made the Chairman and his stooge the MD – as if it is Yunus Pvt Ltd.

      • Ezajur Rahman

        The fact is that Dr Yunus has singlehandedly built Grameen Bank and he can be held accountable for any wrongdoing on his part. However, the government has enjoyed making ridiculous accusations without ever obliging him to answer to all those queries. The notion that those who wish his removal are after the rule of law is simply laughable. No one in the country believe this whole episode has anything to do with rule of law. It is about jealousy and vindictiveness. Those who do not admit this are simply part of the government’s apparatus.

      • Lie Buster

        What did you mean by “family business”? that seems like your own invention… becasue no one really heard of Dr. Yunus’s having a family busienss too. please clear this out with details.

        Next, when you say “he has ran Grameen in a most autocratic way” it just reflects on your poor understanding about how businesses are run in general. if you look at any commercial organization around the world including the most successful ones, they are run in an ‘autocratic’ manner. and outsiders cannot just come and go away with information as if it was their father’s property. it’s a business entity and it has every right to maintain all its business secrecy, just like any other business. even then, Prof Yunus was open enough about his business and that’s why we see many successful replication of Grameen’s business model in tens of other countries. about your comment on “refusing to be interviewed”, you simply denied the fact that it’s his personal choice who he wants to interview with.

    • Emon Saha

      I find bdnews24.com’s reporting objective enough. They are providing us with news and that’s their responsibility. Just because we don’t like one particular news, we cannot blame the news agency as biased. This actually proves the biasness of certain section of the readership.

    • Hasib

      Nehal: If bdnews24.com wasn’t objective enough, i don’t think your comment would have been published, nor would bdnews24.com uploaded opinions by Afsan Chowdhury and Arshad Mahmud criticising Yunus’ exit.

      • Lie Buster

        wow!! bdnews24 removed my comment! no different than our very govt. this is Bangladesh!!!

    • Kazi Salim

      The Grameen Bank founder Dr Md Yunus issue is an administrative matter, between the Grameen Bank and Bangladesh’s highest regulator of all the banks, Bangladesh Bank. Mr Yunus has dishonoured blatantly laws of the country. He should have fixed the Bangladesh Bank’s requirement getting necessary approval of his second time appointment as MD of the Grameen Bank.

      Had the Grameen Bank fulfilled the rules of the Bangladesh Bank, Mr Yunus would have been the MD of the GB for good. But he has totally ignored and dishonoured the state bank’s rules and regulations. He should not have over estimated his position and status. No one is above the law and regarding and honouring the law is the condition to establish rule of law. Dr Yunus is a Nobel laureate, he should have followed all the terms and conditions of Bangladesh Bank.

      We as Bangladeshis are proud of him because he is a Nobel laureate. But it should not mean that he is above the law. No country should be disturbed or bothered by the decision of the Bangladesh Bank as regards Dr Yunus. It is completely and perfectly an administrative matter of the independent and sovereign country of Bangladesh. No one has any authority to express any unnecessary, useless concerns or dissatisfaction over this matter.

      Diplomatic relations is one thing, which is unrelated here. Will the US or UK’s government allow any of their bank’s MD to carry out irregularities or offence disregarding the Federal Reserve Bank’s regulations? If similar thing had happened in the USA or UK, the concern MD or chairman of the bank would have been compelled to appear before the Senate Hearing Committee or the House of Commons Hearing Committee for giving necessary clarifications.

      Now the US ambassador and some others are criticising the decisions of the Bangladesh Bank. The Grameen Bank’s irregularities were first unearthed and raised by the Norwegian TV, which has damaged the country’s images internationally. Dr Yunus and the Grameen Bank should have sued the Norwegian TV and the director of the documentary. Why did he not take any legal action to save his and the country’s images? The government of Bangladesh has a moral obligation to oversee and investigate the reports on the Grameen Bank, which got wide international media coverage. So don’t try to create any issue on this matter. It is a matter of the Bangladesh government and let it be settled, since the matter has gone to the highest court, let the court give the verdict or decision. Let Mr Yunus remain MD for good, abiding the laws to remain MD. No body will raise any question then.

  10. tariq

    The government has totally misinterpreted the whole thing. It’s the govt’s stupidity.

  11. Iftekhar

    If Yunus is close to ten in the eyes of outside world, the prime minister of Bangladesh is about one and her foreign minister is less than zero’. ‘Yunus can get meetings with anyone; the prime minister can’t.’ This both helps to explain Hasina’s continuing resentment of Yunus, but also the difficulty the prime minister faces in her battle with Yunus.

  12. Rumin Ahmad

    Very balanced commentary from a seasoned journalist.
    Parroting ‘Yes Sir’ was made easy during 1996-2001 AL government by a cabinet decision that the prime minister be addressed as ‘SIR’ no matter what.
    In view of Dr Yunus’ letter of 15 March 2010 to the Finance Minister can he be considered at fault for not stepping down or not grooming
    a successor?

  13. Orko

    Well, he did write to AMA Muhith Bhai in 2010 seeking to resign from the position of Managing Director. That Bhai never replied.

    Now, as the Agartola transit is due to start from March 26, the Yunus fiasco along with the very bad cricket, the media and the people could be busy with such circus and not with the transit.
    Would we think about this?

    • Rajib

      Orko, I think, you are right. But how long this government can save itself from ill-doing?

  14. abdullah

    There is say “when america is someone friend, he will have thousand enimies”
    i don’t undersatnd why Mr. Moriarty is disturbed by an action of BD government, which is the country’s internal affair.

    Can anyone check the fate of Sufia Begum of Jobra village who took the first loan from Dr. Yunus. As per media reports, a photograph of a building belonging to another person was shown to reporters as owed by Sufia Begum. Is this honesty ?

    • Rajib

      Mr. Moriarty made his reaction after Finance Minister invited foreign diplomats and donors to express the government’s stance. Finance Minister’s attempt proves that it’s a global issue, not internal. I expected more reactions, rather….May be, at a good time….

    • Ezajur Rahman

      The country’s internal affairs are more like infernal affairs. Everyone can comment about injustice anywhere and we all do. In fact the international community tends to be incorrectly silent about our ridiculous and immature internal affairs. But Yunus belongs to the world and the world has every right to stand up for him. Millions of borrowers received billions of dollars in loans and still people question his integrity. If there is any wrongdoing we should hold this government accountable for not proving and punishing wrongdoing at Grameen Bank during two terms in power!

  15. Steven Miller

    I would also like to say something regarding the opening ceremony of the ICC world cup. The ceremony was marvelous. However, the way the ministers presented their speeches were somewhat political. Many Bangladeshi living in foreign lands have wondered whether it is the wold cup of the Father of the nation?

    There is doubt whether the AL party will come to power in the next term.

  16. Steven Miller

    Mr. Arshad, Well said.

    The documents coming out gradually on the newspapers really show the truth – the action was totally politically motivated.

    In the history of Bangladesh, Prof. Yunus has gained the highest international recognition, and these unqualified politicians have not acted in a manner to protect this fame.

    I would suggest the present government of Bangladesh, without pitting her hands on the healthy and well maintained projects and institutions like Grameen Bank, to make attempt on several other critical issues in the country, which need immediate solution – power crisis, water crisis.

    In the recent time also there have been many rapes and murders. These things have to be addressed immediately.

    Bangladeshi people at this time are fortunate to have a better judiciary which is acting fast and in the right way taking actions. Otherwise, the people would have suffered more than they do now.

    So, now it is the duty of the Bangladesh government to preserve the fame that Prof. Yunus brought in the proper manner to make Bangladesh better. The politicians should follow the example of Prof. Yunus; he is never the one sucking the blood of the poor, but all know it’s the politicians who are sucking the blood of not only the poor but of the whole nation for their benefits.

  17. Shahidullah

    A man who left good position in US in 70’s for his motherland – a man who turned down offer to be a VC in 80s just to foster a bank for the poor – a man who again turned down the offer to be the Chief of the country in early Jan, 2007 is not being liked by our leaders, because all they like are sycophancy and dogmatism. What example is being set by this Yunus ouster – the worst jealousy of the history? Will it encourage any positive mind or forward looking character to contribute for societal uplifting? This act, indeed is an example of how unfortunate we are as a nation, being on the hand of these political leaders. Heaven only knows, when good sense will prevail in our political culture – as we are looking at all these heinous excercises passively and our consciences are swallowing all these odds silently.

  18. Russel Ahmed

    Nobel laureate Dr. Muhammad Yunus was harassed unduly. There was no need to act towards him like that. The Bengali history is now stigmatised.

  19. Golam Arshad

    Arshad: The Battle of the Titan’s is not over yet! In Greek trilogy Hector mused to be the “Hero” even when he was vanquished by Achilles. The fatal heal to heel will tarnish the image of Bangladesh!

  20. ANM Hamidullah

    Correct in all accounts.
    The Finance Minister is stating that overstaying his tenure was such an anomaly and a violation of the Central Bank laws that the Government had to replace Dr. Yunus. The growing list of macroeconomic mismanagement testifies otherwise, that this was in no means an urgent agenda. Then again, what can you expect from bureaucrats masquerading as economists in turn masquerading as politicians?
    The other sad fact is the complicity of the Central Bank. I remember reading the glowing remarks made by the Central Bank Governor about Dr. Yunus and Grameen Bank. This was in an interview on either Prothom Alo or Bhorer Kagoj before he became the Governor. Now he has no qualms playing a pawn for a vindictive political government.

  21. Robin

    I cannot agree with your statement, “Moreover, I’ll fault Yunus for not stepping down on his own even before the controversy began and for not grooming a successor to replace him.”

    Professor Yunus played by the rules. His taking of the Bangladesh Government to the court shows his toughness which is now fascinating the world. He has no reason to quit other than on his own accord.

    Yunus is the current hope who can salvage Bangladesh from a third class unlivable country to a desirable place to live.

  22. Josef

    I agree. I would also like to add few more points like: if Bangladesh bank issued the termination letter why the Finance Minster explained the act of bangladesh bank, which is suppose to be a separate entity?? also, those who are into export related business, they know better than our government how the country image plays a good role in their business.

  23. Khoniker Otithi

    The explanation on how Bangladesh faces reality for mishandling Dr. Yunus is very well conceived in this article. I do not believe that the prime minister and her “yes men” have any aptitude or interest in understanding the inappropriate use of tongue and action. She and others in ruling elite are just engaged in trashing Yunus’ image in their usual and vindictive way. This is expected from our ruling elite.

    I think one of the most abused and popular sayings in Bangladesh are “nobody is above the law”. And we all know how ironic the saying is in the context of today’s Bangladesh! We must consider the context, I mean the context, to judge one’s action. Living in one of the most corrupt and poorest countries, we know how the rulers bend the rules every now and then. We, the ruled, need to break many rules as well only for sheer existence. And some great persons must break more rules to do something great for the humanity. We should look at how big forest they have grown, we shouldn’t concentrate on how some of the trees in their forest look so bizarre!

    Then we must show solidarity for these forest growing people, no matter how many rules they have broken. Our conscience knows which rules are important and which are made to rule us, doesn’t it? Rules should accommodate such great people, rather than they conform to the rules.

  24. Sayed Chowdhury

    Yes, you are right, no one is and should be above law just because he is a Nobel laureate. Although, the donors now say the fund transfer matter was settled a long time back – it was undoubtedly in breach of the contract and an irregular act -if you do not want to call it corrupt.

    The Grameen clarification that it did it to avoid tax does not make it an innocent act. Professor Yunus, no matter how much reputation he has earned for Bangladesh, is known to have run Grameen in a very autocratic and secretive way – lacking transparency – never allowed any second level of leadership to grow. His entering into a commercial deal with his family-owned company of which he still is a director is just corrupt and in utter disregard of conflict of interest. If this is his personal moral standard, the Nobel peace prize has again been conferred on a wrong person. He has belittled himself and don’t you blame others for his downfall.

    How can you blame the government for not allowing him an honourable exit – when he desperately wants to cling onto his position and started using his international connections to save him?

    Hasina’s craving for prizes and PhDs does not make Yunus a pious man. Yunus is a master salesman, who mesmerised the world. The West promotes him because he serves their purpose.

    If on the same ground, the government had removed the MD of another bank, no one would have objected to it. So what’s the outcry for?

    It’s a dilemma whether you always need to care for Uncle Sam’s displeasure and whether you should refrain from doing the right thing because Clintons won’t like it. Was not the US Government of the day also against our independence? Is not our government supposed to be sovereign – entitled to make its own decision?

    At least for doing so, and for this only, hats off to Sheikh Hasina, although she has been a bit tactless and undiplomatic. That’s what she is -utterly courageous like her father – for which sometimes they paid the price.

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