The Bangladeshi government has called on Nobel peace laureate and micro credit pioneer Muhammad Yunus to retire. Finance Minister Abul Maal Abdul Muhith told the BBC that Professor Yunus has reached the normal retirement age for executives at private banks. The latest comments reflect an increasing divide between the Awami League-led government and Prof Yunus. He set up the Grameen Bank about three decades ago to provide microcredit – small loans to the poor.
Mr Muhith said that the government began talking to Prof Yunus around a year ago about who would succeed him and redefining the bank’s role. The finance minister pointed out that according to Bangladeshi rules, the retirement age for executives at private banks had been set at 65 and that Prof Yunus was five years beyond that. “He should give it to others to continue because you never continue all the time in any institution,” Mr Muhith told the Media. But the minister conceded that retirement rules in Bangladesh had not been imposed for many years.
The Grameen Bank came under the spotlight late last year when a Norwegian television documentary alleged that aid money was wrongly transferred to another part of the bank in the mid-1990s. The bank denied all the charges. Later, the Norwegian government, one of its main donors, gave an all-clear to the bank. But the Bangladeshi government set up a review committee in January to look into the bank’s affairs. “I suggested to Professor Yunus after instituting the inquiry… that it might be a good thing for him to withdraw himself temporarily during the period of the review,” Mr Muhith said. “Professor Yunus told me that no, if he withdraws now, the whole of Grameen will collapse.”
Prof Yunus has declined to comment on the finance minister’s remarks to the BBC. Mr Muhith also denied that the latest move was politically motivated. “There is no question of rivalry between the leader of the most popular party (Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina) in the country and him. This is utter nonsense,” Mr Muhith said. The finance minister’s comments came days after supporters of Prof Yunus – including former Irish president Mary Robinson and former World Bank president James Wolfensohn – launched Friends of Grameen to “save the bank from a government takeover”. The bank’s borrowers and savers own 75% of the company, while the government has a 25% stake. Analysts say Sheikh Hasina fell out with Prof Yunus in 2007 when he tried to set up his own political party. – BBC