The Law Must Prevail And Be Equal For All

The recent adjudication of Dr. Muhammad Yunus in the Labor Court stands as a seminal moment in the judicial annals of Bangladesh. Over the decades, he has consistently commanded a conspicuous global presence, drawing the attention of international media, luminaries, and dignitaries, while self-promoting as the ‘savior of the poor’ and the ‘father of microcredit’. Notably, some Western leaders, including former US first lady Hillary Clinton, praised Yunus, in part because of his significant contributions to the Clinton Foundation. Despite accusations against Yunus of trapping millions of Bangladesh’s poor in a spiral of debt through Grameen Bank and other microfinance initiatives, he is celebrated globally as a microfinance pioneer and founder of Grameen Bank, though his alleged exploitation of the poor has been largely ignored. The audacity exhibited by the Bangladesh Awami League government in eschewing the disapprobation of the Western powers has engendered a palpable commotion in the international sphere.

However, lately — beneath the surface, a series of controversies have marred the reputation of Yunus, his brainchild Grameen Bank, and its affiliated organizations, Grameen Telecom and Grameen Kalyan.

One of the primary accusations facing Yunus and his affiliated entities revolves around financial irregularities, including tax evasion, embezzlement, and the misappropriation of funds from various affiliate organizations. The specific case involving Grameen Telecom, where a legal obligation to share 5 percent of profits with employees allegedly went unfulfilled, resulted in a case filed under Sections 4, 7, 8, 117, and 234 of the Labor Act in Bangladesh. This highlights the serious legal implications and underscores the need for a comprehensive investigation.

The involvement of 106 Nobel Laureates, urging Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina to halt legal proceedings against Yunus, adds a layer of complexity to the situation. While the laureates may argue that Yunus is being persecuted, critics maintain that this international support ignores the constitutional limits and may inadvertently undermine the rule of law.

Bangladesh’s government committee’s findings in 2011, revealing rule breaches and fund misuse, further stress the importance of an unbiased examination of the allegations.

Another significant point of contention arises from the alleged manipulation of Grameen Bank’s ownership structure. Originally, members owned 60 percent of the shares, with the government holding the remaining 40 percent. However, investigations indicate that a 1986 amendment shifted the balance, giving 75 percent of the shares to the members and only 25 percent to the government. This apparent violation of Section 7 of the Grameen Ordinance raises questions about the transparency and legality of such changes.

Legal experts in Bangladesh argue that the increase in paid-up capital by Grameen Bank lacks proper authorization. According to them, the power to increase paid-up capital rests solely with the government, and any unilateral action by the bank may constitute a breach of the law. The absence of documented evidence showcasing government authorization for the increase raises concerns about the adherence to legal procedures within Grameen Bank.

The process surrounding the appointment of Muhammad Yunus as the Managing Director of Grameen Bank has also come under intense scrutiny. While the initial appointment by the government followed due processes, subsequent amendments shifted the responsibility to the Board of Directors. However, discrepancies in Yunus’s appointment, including exceeding the age limit set by government employment rules, cast doubt on the legitimacy of his tenure. The violation of service rules, particularly the alleged absence of preapproval from Bangladesh Bank, adds another layer to the controversy.

Yunus’s classification as a public servant, as defined by the Bangladesh Penal Code, adds a legal dimension to the controversies. The 2011 review committee identified several breaches of service terms, including frequent absence, unauthorized foreign travel, and the acceptance of funds without proper permissions. The alleged concealment of Yunus’s position while establishing affiliated ventures abroad further complicates the narrative.

The controversies surrounding Muhammad Yunus, Grameen Bank, and Grameen Telecom present a tangled web of financial, legal, and ethical issues. While media and international support may cast Yunus as a victim, the evidence suggests a more nuanced reality. The intertwining of financial irregularities, ownership structure manipulation, and appointment controversies demands a thorough and impartial investigation. As these allegations continue to capture global attention, the need for accountability and adherence to legal processes remains paramount to ensure justice prevails over influential affiliations and international support.

Yunus strategically showcased Jobra village and the narrative of Sufia as exemplary success tales, gaining significant international attention. Dr. Yunus got the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his role as a ‘pioneer’ of microcredit, and he exhibited Sufia’s name as a symbol of success, though, unbeknownst to many, Sufia had succumbed to extreme poverty. Sufia, the first borrower from Grameen Bank, struggled after her husband’s death, working in vegetables to sustain her family. Despite paying back loans, she never recovered her deposit. Danish journalist Tom Heinemann, internationally acclaimed, along with Weekly Blitz, unveiled the authentic narrative of Sufia’s family, revealing their impoverished existence in makeshift huts. One of her daughters suffered a mental breakdown due to economic hardships and the burden of loans. Later, Yunus promised of financial assistance to Sufia’s family, but his unfulfilled promises and misleading representations further highlight the stark contrast between the acclaimed microcredit pioneer and the harsh reality faced by those he purportedly aimed to uplift.

According to media reports, a court in Bangladesh has sentenced the Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus to six months in jail for violating the country’s labor laws. Following the verdict, Yunus told reporters, “As my lawyers have convincingly argued in court, this verdict against me is contrary to all legal precedent and logic. I call for the Bangladeshi people to speak in one voice against injustice and in favor of democracy and human rights for each and every one of our citizens”.

Here again, an influential international figure like Dr. Yunus has reverted to his longstanding tendency of disseminating misinformation, and it is highly likely that he will continue leveraging international media coverage to mislead through his Western friends. In such instances, if global journalists are to uphold the ethical standards of their noble profession, they ought to diligently probe into Yunus’s questionable actions. In doing so, rather than defending him, they may find themselves accusing him of deceiving millions of impoverished women in Bangladesh over the course of decades. In a civic society, the law must prevail and be equal for all.

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