Govt plans to overhaul GB

May 18 2011

 

14-pt blueprint to raise govt stake in Grameen Bank

Nazmul Ahsan

 

 

The government has planned to raise its stake in the Grameen Bank and establish control over its lucrative sister firms in a move that will transform the Nobel winning micro-lender into another state-owned bank.

 

The finance ministry has outlined the plan in a 14-point blueprint, which follows the controversial sacking of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Professor Muhammad Yunus from the micro-lender he founded in 1983.

 

The US-trained former economics professor was fired from the Grameen Bank on March 2 — a move he challenged futilely for the last two months in the country’s highest court.

 

The central bank removed Yunus, 70, citing he was illegally holding the position of the managing director, as he has crossed Grameen Bank’s mandatory retirement age of 60 years more than a decade ago.

 

Finance ministry officials said the blueprint has been prepared in line with the recent recommendations made by a government-appointed review committee on Grameen Bank and its sister companies.

 

The review body, whose findings were released last week, has said the GB under Yunus “flouted rules and laws consistently” since its inception, particularly in the creation of its sister organisations, known as social business enterprises.

 

“We have planned sweeping reforms for both the Grameen Bank and its sister organizations. They will be implemented in phases very soon,” a top official of the ministry of finance told the FE.

 

Two high-powered government committees will be formed to execute the blueprint, particularly for overhauling bank’s operational independence and establishing its ownership over the 34 sister firms, he said.

 

He said the creation of the sister organisations under the GB Ordinance have spawned “numerous legal loopholes and organisational weaknesses”, paving the way for massive irregularities.

 

 

The sister companies were established by the Grameen Bank created venture capital firms Grameen Kallyan and Grameen Fund. Both the firms were set up in 1996 by amending the GB Ordinance, 1983.

 

Yunus has said the Grameen Bank don’t own the sister organisations including the Grameenphone, whose 34 per cent stake is owned by Grameen Telecom, a social business enterprise created by GB-allied venture capital firm.

 

According to the review committee, that 34 per cent stake is now worth Tk80 billion or 1.25 billion dollars. Other GB sister firms like Grameen Knitwear, Grameen Shakti or Grameen Danone dairy are also rich companies.

 

Finance ministry officials said the government would change the existing Grameen Bank laws so as to establish Grameen Bank’s “full control” over the social business enterprises — some of which are joint ventures with top global companies.

 

“The 1983 Grameen Bank Ordinance has to be changed and corrected to resolve the legal, managerial, controlling and financial problems of the Grameen Bank and its sister organizations,” the first of the 14-points blueprint reads.

 

Under the plan — a copy of which was seen by the FE — the government would change the statutes that led to the creation of the micro-lender, which now lends some Tk10 billion a month to about eight million rural borrowers.

 

 

It said the government would establish a regulatory authority for the Grameen Bank and “actively consider” bringing the lender under the direct supervision of the Bangladesh Bank.

 

Under the blueprint, the government would raise its stake in GB from the current 25 per cent although Yunus has steadfastly maintained that the Bangladesh government’s stake has declined to less than 3.5 per cent.

 

According to Yunus, the government stake has declined gradually with the infusion of capital from growing number of borrowers. By virtue of the 1983 ordinance, a borrower becomes Grameen Bank owner automatically.

 

Officials said the board of directors of Grameen will be reconstituted with induction of experienced professionals with expertise in economics, banking and micro-credit operation.

 

The directors — both sponsor and nominated — must qualify a Bangladesh Bank formulated “fit and proper test”.

 

Presently, the GB board comprises 12 members including nine directors who are directly elected through votes by the Grameen Bank borrowers. The rest three including the chairman are appointed by the government.

 

“The similar clause of Bank Company Act, 1991, which is applicable to all commercial and state-owned banks for appointing bank directors, will be applied to GB,” a top finance ministry official said.

 

The paid-up and authorised capital of bank will be raised substantially from the existing Tk 3.50 billion and, Tk 547 million. “The aim is to help the bank face any liquidity or any other crisis,” said the official.

 

Officials said the GB Ordinance will be amended so that prior permission of BB becomes mandatory to give effect to any regulation of the micro-lender.

Presently, board of directors of Grameen, according to GB Ordinance, is empowered to formulate regulations for the bank, which does not need any prior or post approval from the central bank.

 

The government has also planned to impose tax at source on the income generated from the bank’s deposit, like other commercial banks. The National Board of Revenue will issue an order in this connection soon after the approval from the Prime Minister, said a source.

The Review Committee on GB submitted its report on April 25, this year. It put forward 27-point recommendation to revamp the Grameen Bank.

Yunus’s supporters at home and abroad have protested the Nobel laureate’s removal, saying the economist paid heavy price due to his brief entry into politics during the caretaker government in 2007.

 

Financial Times: http://www.thefinancialexpress-bd.com/more.php?news_id=136043&date=2011-05-18

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