Dhaka: Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus on Thursday accused the Bangladesh government of "snatching" control of the Grameen Bank from the poor after it raised its stake in the pioneering micro-lender.
In an opinion piece published in all major Bangladeshi dailies, the 2006 Nobel peace prize winner said a proposal by a government commission to break up the bank into smaller units, or wrest majority control, would be disastrous.
"This is nothing but snatching. Please do not try to snatch the poor people`s bank out of their hands," Yunus said, comparing the move to "land-grabbing" from the bank`s 8.4 million borrowers.
"Let Grameen Bank proceed on its glorious path with the existing law. If the law is replaced as proposed by the Commission, it will lead to a national disaster," he said.
"Will the Inquiry Commission explain to the people of the country why a bank that operates with its citizens` own money surrender 51 percent or more of its shares to the government, knowing fully well that will be extremely risky, to say the least," he wrote.
His comments came as the government raised its stake in the bank to 25 percent in a bid to consolidate its hold on the financial organisation that was 97 percent owned by the bank`s millions of poor borrower-shareholders.
Yunus, who jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize with Grameen in 2006 for economic and social development, was sacked from the bank in 2011 after he briefly went into politics, enraging the current Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. He was officially fired for exceeding the mandatory retirement age of 60 and challenged the move in court but lost.
The court ruled that the bank, established in 1983, was a government institution, not a private bank owned by its lenders, as Yunus and his lawyers maintained.
A senior finance ministry official said that the government on Wednesday pumped in 132 million taka ($1.7 million) into the bank to raise its share in the bank to 25 percent.
"The government has disbursed the money as paid-up capital of the bank. It is equal to the amount that is required to enhance the government stake to 25 percent," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The move coincides with a set of proposals of a government commission which has asked Hasina`s administration to restructure the bank by raising its stake to at least 51 percent or break it up into at least 19 separate smaller banks.
The proposals will be discussed by experts early next month to be presided over by Bangladesh finance minister A.M.A Muhith.