12 April, 2011

Apakah pengaruh Muhammad Yunus digeruni pemerintah

Seorang tokoh yang MT selalu ikuti perkembangannya ialah Muhammad Yunus pengasas Grameen Bank, Bangladesh.

MT pernah bertemu dengan beliau dan mengikuti wacana beliau di sekitar tahun 2007 di Universiti Islam Antarabangsa.

Muhammad Yunus bersama pengusaha ayam dan itik di kampung
Beliau merupakan bekas Professor Ekonomi di Universiti Chittagong, Bangladesh. Setiap hari dalam perjalanan ke universiti beliau akan melalui deretan masyarakat miskin di tepi-tepi jalan.

Ini menyedarkan beliau dan beliau berkata pada dirinya "Aku merupakan seorang professor ekonomi yang mengajar ekonomi tetapi apa yang telah aku lakukan untuk merubah ekonomi masyarakat aku yang penuh melarat kemiskinan?" cerita beliau semasa memulakan sessi tersebut.

Di atas kesedaran inilah beliau memulakan pinjaman kredit kepada masyarakat miskin sehinggalah tertubuhnya Grameen Bank.

Untuk rekod di bawah MT siarkan kembali tulisan Mahendra VED yang pernah tersiar dalam NST 11/4/2011 mengulas pengaruh empayar Muhammad Yunus sehingga beliau digeruni parti yang memerintah.


REASSESSING a person one admires is often unwelcome, but sometimes necessary. I have to do that with Grameen Bank founder and Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus, having interviewed him in 1997 and followed his work. 

His microcredit conglomerate, with 20,000 employees and 8.3 million customers, has distributed Taka 600 billion (RM24 billion) in loans as of January.

The Grameen concept of lending small sums to poor women in rural areas, who would not dare to even enter a regular bank, has been replicated in many countries with a fair degree of success. For that, credit must go to Yunus and his team.

Besides the Nobel Peace Prize and many other accolades, he has brought pride to his people, who are discussed mostly for their poverty and natural calamities.

His removal on March 2 from the bank has attracted international attention. From France's Nicolas Sarkozy to the United States' Hillary Clinton, a host of luminaries have spoken for him. Some of them have formed "Friends of Grameen".

Yunus lost the battle at the high court, which held his removal valid, and then the Supreme Court, which confirmed it.

The last word is yet to be said, however. The argument now is that this is not a legal issue but a "political" one and must be resolved "politically".

Foreign governments have officially spoken. Their leaders telephoned Yunus to extend support. Sarkozy will take up the issue with Dhaka soon. Such public expressions of disapproval of the action of another government, to say the least, are unusual.

The US has "warned" (the word US official Robert O. Blake used while visiting Dhaka) Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed that "no meaningful discussion" on bilateral issues could take place till the matter is resolved and a "compromise" is reached.

Briefly, the issue is between the government, which wants to enforce a law requiring banks to retire their CEOs at 60, and Yunus, now 71, who wants to retain control of Grameen.

The government is heavily dependent on foreign funds for its development programmes. It cannot afford to annoy the world's high and mighty, which are also donors, key trade partners and importers of its manpower.

Yunus enjoys high credibility with the international community. Even at home, he is deified as an icon that speaks and works for the poor. The political opposition, much of the intelligentsia, the media and civil society are rooting for him.

Yunus has courted controversy. A dispute with Norwegian donors amicably settled earlier resurfaced in a documentary last year. Yunus denied any siphoning off of funds. The Norwegians too stood by him.

But criticism grew. Sheikh Hasina, without naming him or Grameen, attacked "blood suckers". Her finance minister, A.M.A. Muhith, asked Yunus to step down, both formally and informally. Yunus is supposed to have said that if he quit Grameen, it would collapse.

While on paper, he agreed to quit and allow a "process" to find his successor, he and his supporters brought in outside pressure.

What is overlooked is the fact that the banking sector anywhere, including the US and France, is governed by laws of the land. Grameen, no matter how much money it receives from abroad and how well it performs, remains a bank founded in Bangladesh.

Grameen says the government is only a minority stakeholder. Even so, it does not cease to have the power to monitor and regulate the bank.

Why is the government after Yunus? There is no clear answer emerging from the raging debate. Yunus told the Wall Street Journal that he was "not a political threat to anyone".

Soon after he was awarded the Nobel in 2006, there was a suggestion that he head the caretaker government that was meant to last for 90 days, but stayed on for two years. He was not part of it. But during its tenure, he floated a political party, but later dismantled it for want of support.

Assuming the government may have been wrong or ham-handed in dealing with Yunus, the gain to the government, if any, from adopting this controversial course that invites negative publicity, is not cited by anybody.

Grameen has done well in Bangladesh and several other countries, but has a lesser-known side: it charges interest at rates of between 24 to 36 per cent and levies service charges.

The interest rates in adjoining West Bengal in India are much lower. Even the bania or traditional moneylender charges between 24 to 30 per cent. The state sector banks whose rural spread is wide, albeit not as deep as Grameen's in Bangladesh, charge just seven per cent. In his latest annual budget, Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee extended this loan scheme for farmers to fishermen.

Grameen being a microcredit "pioneer" itself needs a closer look. Another Nobel laureate, Rabindranath Tagore, had experimented with success in his East Bengal estates. This is not widely known.

In 1974, two years before Grameen, Ela Bhatt, a gutsy Indian woman, launched the Self-Employed Women's Association (SEWA), a bank on lines advocated by Mahatma Gandhi.

Renowned Indian economist Jagdish Bhagwati pointed out that, unlike Grameen Bank, SEWA had received no foreign money (such as the grant of US$100 million from Norway, the handling of which led to initial charges of malfeasance against Yunus), and it has distributed dividends of 9-12 per cent annually each year since its founding.

Those protesting efforts by the Bangladesh government to monitor Grameen, need informing that throughout its existence, SEWA has been regulated by the Reserve Bank of India, staying strictly within the law and seeking no special dispensations.

By comparison, Yunus started Grameen with himself and his family members in control.

His diversifying into telecoms -- Grameen Phone is Bangladesh's largest telco and planning to make shoes of multinational brands, undoubtedly beneficial as it means more jobs, is not liked by some donors who see him as a competitor.

Bhagwati said, by getting the US to side with Yunus against Hasina, "Hillary seems guilty of arrogantly intervening in the domestic affairs of a friendly, democratic government".

As international pressures build up amid media hype, and emotions run high, the controversy has not done anybody good.