Muhammad Yunus forced out of Grameen Bank

Mar 2, 2011
Tim Edwards

Inventor of microcredit is victim of a ‘politically orchestrated’ campaign, say his supporters

Muhammad Yunus, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning inventor of 'microcredit', has been forced out as managing director of the Grameen Bank, the organisation he founded in Bangladesh in 1983 in order to lift millions of people out of poverty.

The idea that made Yunus famous was to lend small sums of money to poor people - mostly women with young families - without them having to put up collateral. The cash allowed people who would normally have to turn to loan sharks to set up businesses and make a living.

But today, Bangladesh's central bank, which owns 25 per cent of Grameen, said Yunus, 70, had breached the country's retirement laws by remaining in charge after the age of 60.

Muzammel Huq, the Grameen Bank's government-appointed chairman and an opponent of Yunus, told AFP: "Yunus was appointed as the managing director of Grameen Bank in 2000 without the prior approval of the Bangladesh Bank."

He said the appointment had been made in breach of a clause in Grameen's bylaws that states the approval of the central bank should be sought.

The move brings to an end Yunus's long reign at the Grameen Bank, during which time he and the institution were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their work.

Despite near universal praise for his achievements, Yunus has not been without his critics. They point out that the Grameen Bank's interest rate - at around 20 per cent for its main product - is much higher than those of traditional banks.

The timing of the Bangladesh central bank's announcement appears to be no accident.

In recent months, criticism of Yunus has intensified. He has been accused of malpractice for transferring Norwegian funds from the Grameen Bank to another venture without approval. The  Norwegians said the matter had been resolved in 1998 when the funds were returned, but a Bangladeshi government committee has been set up to investigate anyway.

Yunus's supporters, such as former Irish president Mary Robinson, see the attacks on Grameen's founder as "politically orchestrated".

Indeed, foremost among Yunus's critics has been Bangladeshi prime minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed. In 2007, when he dared to set up a rival political party to campaign against corruption, she said she saw "no difference between usurers and corrupt people". The 'usurer' she had in mind, of course, was Yunus.

In December Sheikh Hasina said Yunus was treating Grameen like his "personal property" and was "sucking blood from the poor".

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