Dr. Muhammad Yunus, who was once applauded at home and abroad for his efforts to end poverty, has seen a significant decline in his reputation as a result of his controversial role in Bangladesh on a number of issues, ranging from influencing the World Bank to scrapping the Padma Bridge financing, tax evasion, illegal transfer of donor funds, misuse of power and violating foreign travel regulations. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that Prof. Yunus was respected in Bangladesh for receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, despite the fact that his organization was the subject of numerous inquiries and accusations due to its shady organizational structure.
Prof. Yunus founded Grameen Telecom and holds a significant investment in the country’s leading mobile network providers (Grameen Telecom). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his idea of providing micro-finance loans to millions of rural women through the Grameen Bank.
End up in controversy
Recently, Bangladesh Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) initiated investigations against Grameen Telecom (GT) and its board of directors in connection with the Tk 3,000 crore money laundering case. The allegations include misappropriation of 5% of the dividend reserved for employees; illegally deducting 6% as lawyers’ fees and other charges from the salaries of workers; embezzling more than Tk 45.52 crore from the welfare fund for employees; and laundering Tk 2,977 crore from the company.
The allegations and probes against the Nobel laureate and his organizations are not new. On September 9, 2021, a case was filed under Sections 4, 7, 8, 117, and 234 of the Labour Act by the Department of Inspection for Factories and Establishments against Dr. Yunus and three others for violating labor laws. He formally apologized for violating the country’s labor laws after admitting that a social business firm he set up had broken labor laws.
Besides, a stunning allegation has recently surfaced against Dr. Yunus that he unlawfully settled all the 110 cases filed against him by the Grameen Telecom union of workers and employees, for Tk 250 million. He also courted controversy in 2015 when Bangladesh’s revenue authorities summoned him over non-payment of over $1.51 million in taxes.
Additionally, there are also widespread allegations that Prof. Yunus has illegally transferred funds from foreign donors to various private organizations for his own interests. In a Danish documentary by Tom Heinemann titled “Caught in Micro Debt” in 2010, Yunus and Grameen Bank were accused of diverting funds worth approximately $100 million that the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) had provided to the bank for housing loans for the poor in Bangladesh.
Due to the fact that the world community did not pay attention to Prof. Yunus’ bad traits, he is well known internationally. In March 2011, Yunus was requested to resign as the bank’s CEO, in contravention of the country’s retirement laws, which state that the retirement age is 60. Yunus was then 70 years old. The government invited him to serve as “Advisor Emeritus,” but he rejected the offer and sued the government. Finally, he lost the legal battle in the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court.
Unfortunately, then he invited foreign powers, especially America and other international organizations, to regain his position in the Grameen Bank. He pressed the government to change its decision in favour of him by lobbying lawmakers from various European countries, the then US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and Cherry Blair, spouse of the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair. In a very real sense, a Nobel laureate’s plea for the help of multiple foreign countries and organizations to settle his personal issue didn’t exactly reflect his patriotism.
Allegations are also rife that Dr. Yunus was behind the World Bank’s ugly refusal to fund the Padma Bridge project, the country’s largest structure. While withdrawing, the World Bank made a lot of noise about corruption at the highest levels of government. But, later, Bangladesh found it to be a conspiracy when the alleged corruption charges were dismissed by a Canadian court in 2017. The World Bank’s then-president, Robert Bruce Zoellick’s, claim that there was no justification for canceling the credit because Bangladesh is one of its partner countries and has never defaulted on a loan in terms of repaying debt a blatant sign that a plot was afoot. Finally, it was learned that Zoellick had been forced to sign the decision to scrap the financing at the eleventh hour on his last working day as WB president.
Prof. Yunus has also been embroiled in controversy when some economists accused him of “sucking blood” from the poor with high-interest rates. When borrowers in the village were unable to make timely payments, debt collectors used coercive and even violent tactics, demanding that they sell their cattle, chickens, and other household goods in order to pay off the microcredit loans. There have been claims of physical abuse and intimidation by debt collectors. In this regard, some argue that people can quickly sink into a cycle of debt with exorbitant rates of interest. Dr. Qazi Kholikuzzaman Ahmad, chairman of PKSF, a body that monitors microfinance, describes microcredit as a ‘death trap’ for Bangladesh’s poor.
Fall from political ground
When a caretaker administration was supported by the Bangladeshi army in 2007, Dr. Yunus mounted a perilous political horse. Although he had never been a part of any democratic movement, his actions during the country’s political transition on November 11 had garnered harsh condemnation from different quarters, particularly civil society members. Amazingly, when all political activities were banned in the country, he was allowed to form a political party and start its activities. On February 11, 2007, Dr. Yunus sought the support of the countrymen to float a political party to‘reform’ the politics of the country. However, the populace resisted his party and his plan to seize power through a behind-the-scenes and shabby deal.
The Nobel Laureate has now taken a clear position by stating that the election will be meaningless if it is not held under a caretaker government, obviously undermining the constitution. It is regrettable that a man of global fame has revealed himself to be a supporter of a political coalition on the subject of owning a bank. This is unfortunate. Never in the history of the Nobel Prize has a winner exploited the prestige of the award for a personal vendetta.
According to political analysts, if he truly intended to get into politics, he should shed his current mask and declare the formation of a new political party with a clear policy and program to convince the masses. Otherwise, if he continues his current sabotage role against the government of Bangladesh, he will gradually lose his good reputation day by day.
We need to note that the Nobel Prize, which has simply become a modern pseudo-political agenda, can’t save him from national and global condemnation like the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has shown little interest in protecting the Rohingya, “the world’s most persecuted people”. As a responsible citizen, Dr. Younus must comprehend the situation and refrain from any controversy that is against Bangladeshi laws.