Former Irish president Mary Robinson has joined the development partners, prominent personalities and corporations in vowing to protect Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus from “politically orchestrated” attacks.
As many as 50 charities and public figures, including James Wolfensohn, former World Bank president, Jagdish Sharan Verma, former Chief Justice of India, and Yeardley Smith, a French born American actress, on Wednesday said Yunus and Grameen Bank have fallen victim to a campaign of misinformation, according to a statement of Friends of Grameen.
Formed on February 11, 2011, Friends of Grameen is a voluntary association that aims to promote microcredit and social business, especially the microcredit activities of Grameen Bank and its affiliates.
Mary Robinson, also former United Nations high commissioner for human rights, chairs the honorary committee while Maria Nowak, president of pioneering French microfinance institution ADIE, heads the executive committee.
Prof Yunus, who shared the Nobel Prize with Grameen Bank in 2006, has been targeted with increasingly aggressive attacks by the government as well as his opponents following a Norwegian documentary, released in December last accusing him and the bank of malpractice.
Grameen Bank denied all the allegations saying the issue had been amicably settled between the bank and the Norwegian government, one of its main donors, over a decade ago.
“We are deeply concerned by the ongoing attacks against Professor Yunus and Grameen Bank, that are politically orchestrated,” said Robinson in the statement.
She said while some micro lenders have become lucrative commercial enterprises, Yunus and Grameen Bank follow a sustainable model — with very transparent and reasonable interest rates — making the borrowers owners of the bank.
Grameen Bank lends its clients at 20 percent interest rate, one of the lowest in Bangladesh where the industry averages between 20 and 30 percent with some charging as high as 45 percent interest rate.
“Because of the importance of such a role model, our duty is to protect the integrity of Professor Yunus and the independence of Grameen Bank,” said Robinson.
The statement comes after Finance Minister AMA Muhith called for Yunus to step aside from his position in the bank until the government’s three-month-long probe finishes.
In December last, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused the Nobel laureate of treating Grameen Bank as his “personal property” and claimed the group was “sucking blood from the poor”.
There are about 1,200 micro lending organisations in Bangladesh, catering to over 3 crore clients, who do not have access to formal banking.