Monday, May 16, 2011

Govt's Political Plan To Banish GB's Micro Credit?

The government is launching a massive micro-savings scheme to cut the micro credit habit of the poor. This is a move, political observers here believe, to put in place to knock out Grameen Bank ( GB) from its franchised activities or bring it under pressure in rural Bangladesh.    The saga of the Grameen Bank ( GB) and Prof. Dr. Mohammad Yunus as the pioneer of micro credit as an effective tool of poverty alleviation is thus turning into a bad story now with increasing government intervention at all levels.         Tk. 5 ,927 cr scheme    According to a news item filed by state news agency BSS last week the government is going to spend Taka 5 ,927 crore to push the new micro savings scheme for the rural poor to be implemented over several years. It plans to bring 51 lakh poor families as against 85 lakhs borrowers now covered by micro credit under the scheme to be organised through 85 ,000 village committees comprising of 60 to 100 members each.    Under the scheme, the government plans to provide Tk 200 grant per month to a member who will in turn contribute a matching fund of Taka 200. This will ensure a saving of Taka 400 per month and by year-end the amount of savings will turn to about Taka 5 ,000 with interest. In two years, a member will thus have a saving of Taka 10 ,000 and this is how the country's poverty level may be reduced to 20 per cent by 2015 from 40 per cent at this moment. This is an ambitious strategy as spelled out by the project director of the new scheme Prosanta Kumar Roy. However, it looks more like a political project to take away the poor from the cover of micro credit in one hand and thereby create a new socio- political platform in villages to further strengthen public support for the government prior to next election on the other.    The authors of the new scheme say, micro credit puts the poor in the chain of slavery, micro saving will make them self-reliant.    And through this the Nobel winning Grameen Bank (GB) along with its pioneer Dr Yunus is now facing increasing pressures from many directions. It seems the government is making effort and doing experiments to end micro credit activities.    Apprehensions of destabilisation of the GB are on the rise in one hand when the government is planning to restructure GB, and thereby dislodge it from its poverty alleviation activities on the other.         GB man abducted, six cases    Earlier quarters close to the government have lodged at least half a dozen cases against Dr Yunus at the districts to bring physical harassment to him.    Only last week a leader of the GB employees' association, Sagir Ahmed Chowdury was abducted by a group of unknown persons. They gave him severe beating in the captivity indicating that things may turn further worse.    The abductors later released him with the warning not to protest the government move to restructure the GBand refrain from creating noise demanding the appointment of Dr Yunus to the post of GB chairman.    The GB employees are demanding this following his controversial removal by Bangladesh Bank from the post of its managing director. He is holding the post since it was set up in 1983 and there is no secret that his removal is a politically charged decision to harm the organization. GB employees and every other sensible people believe that there is no alternative to Dr Yunus in running the organization and now to protect it from threats to its existence.    The removal order has already saw several legal battles in the country's higher judiciary and Dr Yunus has lost all such battles which had challenged the justification of the action of the central bank.    Meanwhile, a large number of people who claim themselves to be former employees of GB and victims of Dr Yunus' repression as they were forced to resign from jobs, are also holding routine press briefing in the city, in addition to staging public rallies in front of GB at Mirpur demanding that they get back their jobs.         Disrupting GB's functioning    A chaotic situation is in the build up around disrupting the normal functioning of GB while bringing threats to safety and security of its staff from different quarters drawing support from ruling political establishments.    Eye witness in the spot said most people taking to the streets in front of GB head office are not known face although they claim themselves as former employees. They are outside elements. Witness said involvement of outside provocateurs may eventually turn worse.    Even some of them may stage an attempt to break into the GB premises with tacit support of the government nominated chairman who is there, say critics say to lead the government takeover easier. They are being held back now by heavy presence of police and RAB personnel at the entrance of the GB head office building working as a buffer with the GB employees holed up inside.    The GB employees observed one- hour work stoppage every day at the Bank's heads office last week demanding restoration of peace and stability and on top of everything, appointment of Dr Yunus to the chair.    No one can better protect the organization than its founder, they say demanding peaceful transition without destroying the character of GB as the bank of the poor.         Owned by poor women    They further raise the question: how long will this chaotic situation continue and especially why the government is bent upon taking over it although it is entirely owned by poor women borrowers, except a 3.3 per cent government paid up capital in terms of GB's latest resource base.    The government is however planning to raise its stake at controlling level now from an official 25 per cent stake and observers believe that certain vested quarters are at work to establish control and grab its wealth.    Analysts believe that certain elements mainly comprising of former GB employees who lost jobs in the past on grounds of indiscipline, inefficiency or moral turpitude are at work supplementing the government efforts of the take over.         Internal discipline    Sources blame, the present chairman Khondker Mozammel Haque has been recently nominated by the government for sheltering outside forces. They say that he was forced to resign as he had violated the internal discipline by marrying a subordinate staff.    Mozammel was already married; and when his first wife made formal complaint Dr Yunus asked him to leave. He was initially recruited by him at his research unit at a time when he was denied of a post of lecturer at Chowmohoni College in Noakhali. He was then slowly promoted to senior posts.    He is on the scene again joining hand with the government and claiming as a co-founder of the GB. Moreover, his claim as Oxford research fellow has at least no tangible proof with the GB, said a source.    Yet another former employee, Dipal Chandra Barua is at work, sources say contributing to mobilisation of covert and overt actions at political and street levels.         Grameen Shakti    He was forced to leave the organization as the deputy managing director when he grabbed a prize money of US$ 1.5 million (over Taka 10 crore) two years ago which Grameen Shakti, a subsidiary of GB, received from the UAE government on its pioneering role to popularize the use of solar energy in Bangladesh.    Dipal as the managing director of Grameen Shakti, besides DMD of GB, went to receive the award and then refused to hand over the money to Grameen account. When Dr Yunus made it a point, he broke discipline and administrative action followed.    Meanwhile, allegedly Dipal's instances of corruption were revealed one after another. Inside sources said, he allegedly made at least Taka 30 to 35 crore over the past years slicing commission from marketing of solar panels. Insiders say, he also allegedly made huge fortune from the construction of the GB complex with several high- rise buildings at Mirpur since he was supervising construction in the ground.    The disclosure eventually led to his resignation. Dipal Barua was also hired by Dr Yunus when he was a student at Chittagong University. He worked through different levels and joined the GB when it was set up as a field officer. Dipal has set up a new company now named as 'Bright Green Energy Foundation' having an office space at Gulshan, a posh area in Dhaka.