Home / Bangladesh / ‘Faced many dangers before, but this is the greatest danger we ever faced’: Dr Yunus

‘Faced many dangers before, but this is the greatest danger we ever faced’: Dr Yunus

Grameen Bank founder and former managing director Muhammad Yunus is faced with the biggest threat till now to his legacy, as he described a brazen attempt to forcefully occupy the building housing the group of social business enterprises inspired by his anti-poverty philosophy.

At an embattled press conference Thursday on the ground floor of Grameen Telecom Building at Mirpur in Dhaka, Yunus was flanked by Grameen Telecom managing director Nazmul Hasan and Grameen Kalyan managing director AKM Moinuddin Chowdhury where they recounted their harrowing experience starting from last Monday, together describing what comes off as a blatant attempt to grab the land, the building and as many as possible of the 16 social enterprises housed there, reports UNB.

All the social enterprises at Telecom Building, a modern office block with green certifications built on a 53-acre site on Mirpur’s Zoo Road in Mirpur, have Yunus as an unsalaried chairman. The building itself is owned by the Grameen Telecom Trust.

Arriving 30 minutes late at the press conference after being held up by extraordinary scenes outside the building, where a group of women took out a ‘broom procession’, Yunus in his short opening statement described how they had moved to the “beautiful, new building” recently and were enjoying working peacefully there, till everything started falling apart on Monday.

“Out of nowhere, some outsiders came and forcefully occupied the building, and we became the outsiders,” said the Nobel laureate. “They started running the building according to their own rules and desire, just like that.”

He said they took the matter to the police, but were given short shrift.

“At first they wouldn’t even receive the complaint. Then they came by once, and apparently nothing seemed out of place to them,” said Yunus.

“They (grabbers) are enjoying the ownership of the place. They are locking the place in the evening, unlocking in the mornings. Even whether we would be able to hold the press conference here was uncertain,” he added.

“Despite being in our own home, we are the ones being treated as outsiders. Can a country run like this?” he questioned.

Dr Yunus said one member of the group told him the plot used to be owned by his father.

“Even if it was,” the famed crusader against poverty posited, “Is forcefully grabbing it the way to reclaim it? What is the point of having the law and courts there then?

The purpose of calling the press conference, he said, was to hold up in front of the nation the situation they are in, and to know from them what they (he and his colleagues) should do.

“We were only in our own home, minding our own business. We don’t go looking for trouble. Why did it have to come looking for us?” he questioned, adding: “Well we have faced many dangers before, but this to me seems like the most dangerous situation we have ever faced.”

The group numbered some 20-22, according to Grameen Kalyan MD Moinuddin Chowdhury, and their behaviour across the two days was beneath civil. He alleged the intruders created a hostile environment and even resorted to verbally abusing one of their finance officials, and had the staff bring them food.

Chowdhury said he was able to recognise one of them as a Col (retd) Jahangir from his military days, who told him he was now working as a consultant with Grameen Bank.

Legal Wranglings

At the heart of the outside group’s attempted takeover, it would seem, is an effort to weaponise Dr Yunus’ most prized achievement, Grameen Bank, against him. Perhaps anticipating this line of attack, Yunus took the opportunity to definitively state that none of the social enterprises had any Grameen Bank monies invested in them – not a single taka.

Nazmul Islam, managing director of Grameen Telecom, revealed that the intruders, claiming association with Grameen Bank, cited a 1995 Act to justify their actions, suggesting Grameen Bank had the authority to change Grameen Kalyan’s leadership.

However, Nazmul Islam clarified that this claim was erroneous, as the relevant rule was amended in 2009 and Grameen Kalyan operates independently. He, like the other two, however refused to be drawn into the legalese too much, which they advised to raise with their legal counsel.

The legal issues were then more clearly explained in a second press conference held by Barrister Abdullah Al Mamun, legal advisor to Grameen Telecom, at the same location around an hour later.

He said according to articles of association drawn up in 1995 and 1996, Grameen Bank had the authority to nominate, not appoint –a key difference – two directors to the board of Grameen Telecom and Kalyan respectively. They could also nominate a chairman.

Using muscle power, Grameen Bank was now apparently forcefully appointing the chairman of the two entities, but this was unlawful, Barrister Mamun said. After staging the initial grab at around 5.30pm on Monday, they said a ‘letter was coming (from Grameen Bank) appointing new chairmen’ for Telecom and Kalyan. They subsequently padlocked those two offices.

The letter arrived around 9pm, but as per Barrister Mamun’s interpretation, the circumstances in which they arose do not allow for any validity to their contents.

“Their nominations have to be accepted in a meeting by the two entities themselves. There is no scope for them to force their choice and seat them as the chair or director,” he said. “Besides, after the changes in 2009, the articles of association were changed and notified to the Joint Stock Registrar of Companies.”