By: Tajul Islam
According to media reports, infamous microcredit mafia, Muhammad Yunus, who has pushed lives of millions of poor women in Bangladesh into extreme adversity and sufferings has been handed six month's imprisonment by a court in Dhaka. Following the pronouncement of the verdict, Yunus has resorted to his old tactics of hiding truth beneath lies with the ulterior motive of gaining public sympathy. It is anticipated, a number of influential friends of Muhammad Yunus, including former Secretary of State Hillaru Clinton shall join Yunus with a massive media assault targeting Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and ruling Awami League. It may be mentioned here that Yunus is one of the biggest donors of the Clinton Foundation.
In the international arena, few figures have attained the level of reverence accorded to Muhammad Yunus, renowned as the 'father of microcredit' and recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. However, the glittering façade of microcredit success stories and accolades hides a labyrinth of controversies surrounding Yunus and Grameen Bank, the institution he founded. This article undertakes a comprehensive exploration of the intricate issues, delving into the complexities of financial irregularities, ownership structure manipulation, appointment controversies, and the often-overlooked stories of microcredit recipients.
At the center of the controversies surrounding Yunus and Grameen Bank lies a mosaic of financial irregularities that have gradually come to light. Allegations ranging from tax evasion to embezzlement and misappropriation of funds within Grameen Bank and its affiliated entities have raised serious legal concerns. A notable case revolves around Grameen Telecom, where the failure to share profits with employees has resulted in legal action under various sections of the Labor Act in Bangladesh. The 2011 findings of a government committee have only heightened the urgency for a meticulous investigation into rule breaches and fund misuse, effectively challenging the prevailing narrative of Grameen Bank as an unassailable force for societal good.
The involvement of 106 Nobel Laureates advocating for the suspension of legal proceedings against Yunus has added an intriguing layer of complexity to the unfolding narrative. While some assert that Yunus is a victim of persecution, others contend that international support might inadvertently undermine the rule of law. The laureates' intervention, coupled with the weight of allegations against Grameen Bank, necessitates a closer examination of the ethical and legal dimensions surrounding Yunus's activities. This prompts essential questions about the accountability, transparency, and potential ramifications of influential affiliations in the realm of international development.
A significant point of contention revolves around the alleged manipulation of Grameen Bank's ownership structure. Investigations reveal a subtle shift in share distribution in 1986, raising pertinent questions about the transparency and legality of these alterations. Legal experts argue that the apparent lack of proper authorization calls into question the integrity of Grameen Bank, intensifying concerns about adherence to legal procedures within the organization and the potential impact on the myriad beneficiaries it claims to serve.
The process surrounding Yunus's appointment as the Managing Director of Grameen Bank stands under intense scrutiny. Discrepancies, including surpassing the age limit set by government employment rules and the alleged absence of reapproval from Bangladesh Bank, cast a pall over the legitimacy of his tenure. Yunus's classification as a public servant adds a legal dimension to the controversies, with allegations of breaches of service terms, unauthorized foreign travel, and the acceptance of funds without proper permissions. These layers of complexity demand a nuanced examination of the ethical and legal implications surrounding the leadership of Grameen Bank and its impact on its vast clientele.
Muhammad Yunus' poster woman Sufia Begum's tale of extreme poverty and sufferings
In the world of microcredit, through mockery, deception and unending falsehood, Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus stands tall as a pioneer, with Jobra village and the success story of Sufia Begum as shining examples. Yunus projected these narratives to the international community, garnering tremendous attention and accolades, ultimately securing the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. However, behind the façade of success, there lies a heartbreaking story that transcends borders - a story of poverty, hardship, and the harsh realities of life.
Sufia Begum, the first borrower of a microcredit loan from Yunus's Grameen Bank, was once celebrated as a symbol of triumph. Yet, almost a decade before the accolades and fame, Sufia quietly succumbed to the clutches of extreme poverty and the lack of essential medical care. Her death on January 16, 1997, left behind two daughters - Nurunnahar and Fazilatunnahar - struggling to survive in the harsh economic landscape.
Sufia's husband had long departed during their daughters' childhood, leaving her as the sole breadwinner. Dealing in vegetables, Sufia managed to arrange marriages for her daughters, but even after marriage, the daughters remained close to their mother's homestead, maintaining a reciprocal relationship for earning and sharing livelihood.
Taking a loan of taka 60 more than 25 years ago, Sufia embarked on a journey with Grameen Bank, depositing one taka per day. Despite repaying loans and taking subsequent amounts, she never retrieved her initial deposit. The economic hardships, coupled with pressure from the Grameen Bank loans, took a toll on Sufia's elder daughter, leading to a loss of mental balance.
Today, both daughters and their families find themselves in the grips of poverty. Fazilatunnahar's two sons, employed as rickshaw-pullers, live in straw-roofed huts with their wives and children. Fazilatunnahar, still grappling with mental instability, expresses anger towards outsiders and journalists, lamenting the adverse effects of the loans.
Nurunnahar, the younger daughter, faces similar challenges. Her husband abandoned her long ago, leaving her to raise two sons and a daughter. The elder son, a rickshaw-puller, supports the entire family in their small, dilapidated hut that cannot withstand the rainy season.
The tale of Sufia Begum's family serves as a poignant reminder that behind the accolades and success stories in microcredit, there exist shadows of untold struggles. It prompts us to question the sustainability and real impact of such initiatives, urging a closer examination of the long-term consequences on the lives of those who were once hailed as success stories.
Recent developments, including a court in Bangladesh sentencing Muhammad Yunus to six months in jail for violating labor laws, add another layer to the already intricate controversies. Yunus's response, claiming the verdict goes against legal precedent and logic, invites scrutiny into the intersection of legal issues and political dynamics. The call for the Bangladeshi people to speak against injustice and for democracy further complicates the broader implications of these legal battles, marking a turning point in the ongoing saga.
The controversies surrounding Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank, and affiliated organizations weave a complex narrative of financial, legal, and ethical challenges. While international support may depict Yunus as a victim, a nuanced reality emerges upon closer inspection. The intertwining of financial irregularities, ownership structure manipulation, appointment controversies, and the often-overlooked stories of microcredit recipients demand a thorough and impartial investigation.
As allegations continue to capture global attention, the need for accountability and adherence to legal processes remains paramount. Journalists, in their pursuit of truth, must critically examine Yunus's actions, considering the implications for millions of impoverished individuals in Bangladesh who have been directly impacted by the practices of Grameen Bank. In this unfolding saga, the quest for transparency, justice, and a comprehensive understanding of microcredit's real-world impact takes center stage.
Author's bio: Tajul Islam, a senior journalist and Special Correspondent of Weekly Blitz writes on a broad-range of issues in local and international media. Follow him on X @tajulraj1