Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Bitter battle of microcredit celebrity likely to strain US-Bangladesh ties

SALEEM SAMAD
A SENIOR United States official once again warned that its bitter battle between Muhammad Yunus and the Bangladesh authority could dent diplomatic ties between two countries.

US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake warned that failure to find a compromise that respects Dr Yunus’ global stature and maintains the integrity and effectiveness of Grameen Bank “could affect our bilateral relations.”

The apex court on Monday confirmed the High Court ruling that backed the sacking of the Nobel Peace laureate from Grameen Bank as its managing director.

Nobel laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus unceremonious exit from the bank he founded for having no legal authority to act as the micro-lender's managing director, since its board had not obtained the Bangladesh Bank's sanction to re-appoint him beyond the bank's official retirement age of 60.

A day later Blake made the remark on Tuesday in his testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee in Washington, reports private wire service United News of Bangladesh.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a close friend of Yunus, who has won the two highest civilian honors of the US — American Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal.

Last month in Dhaka, Blake issued a thinly-veiled threat that if a compromise was not reached at on the Yunus issue, the US-Bangladesh relationship would get 'impacted', writes news agency bdnews24.com.

“Dr. James Wolfensohn and I pressed the government of Bangladesh to protect the integrity of civil society and the autonomy of the Grameen Bank, and I warned that a failure to find a compromise that respects Dr. Yunus’ global stature and maintains the integrity and effectiveness of Grameen could affect our bilateral relations,” Blake told the Congressional Committee.

Finance Minister AMA Muhith last month said the government would be open to some compromise – such as to allow Yunus to remain an emeritus fellow at Grameen – but not, however, to his proposal that he should step aside as managing director and be made chairman instead.

As a democratic and moderate Sunni Muslim majority nation of 165 million people, the US State Department official said Bangladesh is a country with which the United States has a vested interest in maintaining close relations.

Blake said Bangladesh is a secular democracy, with a history of religious and ethnic tolerance. It also can be proud of its vibrant and innovative civil society, which has produced such outstanding global citizens as microcredit celebrity Muhammad Yunus, who’s Grameen Bank, was a pioneer of the concept of “microcredit” - providing small loans to tens of millions of Bangladeshis, especially women, who possess little or no collateral.

Despite success in economic growth and outmatched US trade with Bangladesh in recent years, but he said country still remains among the poorest countries in Asia. [ENDS]

Saleem Samad, an Ashoka Fellow is an award winning investigative journalist based in Bangladesh. He specializes in Jihad, forced migration, good governance and politics. He has recently returned from exile after living in Canada for six years. He could be reached at saleemsamad@hotmail.com

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