Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Conversation With: Muhammad Yunus

Muhammad Yunus, the economist who founded Bangladesh’s Grameen Bank, visited Mumbai recently where he spoke to India Ink about his vision of “social businesses,” his forced departure from Grameen and the recent controversies that have dogged micro-finance in India and elsewhere.
An edited, condensed version of the interview follows:

The microfinance industry has gone through an existential crisis in the last few years. Why did the industry fall from grace?

See, it’s because everybody jumped at it, because it’s such a well known, such a respected thing. The moment you say microfinance everybody wants to help you. So, they took advantage of that and turned it around to make money for themselves. That’s where all the problems were created. It is not the basic concept of microcredit that has a problem; when it is dedicated to the poor people, to help them, solve their problems.

In the business world growth is the key word, if you want to put an I.P.O. and so forth. They say, ‘Oh growth rate is so high, fantastic, we’ll do it all over India.’ You are attracting people to make lot of money with your impressive growth rate. So in order to show growth rate in your performance record you constantly need to push people to do things.

What was is about the circumstances in Andhra Pradesh, which caused microfinance to fail there? What was different about that state?

SKS [Microfinance]. The key is that the whole thing was triggered by SKS. They were the ones who kind of overdid things in a big way. The aggressiveness that it brought into the picture created all the problems. And then he [Vikram Akula, the founder and former chairman of SKS] made personal money out of it. That also irritated the people. That you are saying that you are helping the poor people but I see you are making personal money out of this.

Several other reasons as well. One is overcrowding. Andhra Pradesh was a leading microfinance state, if I’m not wrong almost a third of microcredit in India is in Andhra Pradesh. So that’s kind of put everybody in the picture, all the companies, all the MFI’s that operate. That created overcrowding, which led to overlapping; same person given loans by several people.

And then politicians got into the picture. Because they said this is too much, we’ll give you cheaper. Even some politicians probably said they would give you interest free loans and so on and so forth. They asked not to pay back. All this happened within one state and created a big mess.

Could share your thoughts about being forced out of Grameen Bank?

Well, this is kind of a painful thing. What can I say more than that? … It was totally unnecessary. It makes no sense. There is no meaning to it. But it puts Grameen Bank at risk, and that’s what worries us.

My departure is not an issue. I already told the government that I want to go. I said can you put me as the chairman of the board so it’ll be easy for people to accept my departure because I’m not completely leaving.

 I’m simply moving from an executive position to a non-executive position.

So, government has another plan. They removed me and still they couldn’t find a replacement. We’re worried about the future of the bank. Because after all this bank is owned by poor people. The borrowers own 97 percent of the shares of the bank and the government owns only 3 percent.

How would you characterize your relationship with Sheikh Hasina, the prime minister of Bangladesh?

She never explained so I don’t understand what went on, just speculation of various types in the press. One is that she feels I’m a political threat, I don’t know why I’m a political threat. This is again speculation. She never said that I’m a political threat. Probably she would say, “Why should I think he’s a political threat, he’s not in politics. Who is he? He is nothing.”

You cannot explain. We’ve never had a face-to-face meeting, although I’ve tried to seek her appointment so I could see her, but it never happened.

In 2007, you considered joining Bangladeshi politics by announcing a new party named Nagorik Shakti, or Citizen Power. What made you change your mind?

That was very special circumstances because there was a caretaker government running the country at the time. They put all the top leaders in jail, including Hasina. So, there was a political vacuum, both parties who were in power before disintegrated because many of their leaders were in jail. And elections were coming.

So people were getting nervous, what will happen, who will run the country. So, people kept coming to me – all the leading people – that you should join politics so that you can lead the next election. I said, I’m not a politician, I don’t know. And they put pressure and finally I said okay, I’ll join politics and I’ll create a party.

And then gradually people said what kind of political party and so on, I tried to answer. Within two months I announced that no I’m not going to create a party. That’s all – I never created a party.

What are you working on now?

Social business. There’s lots of new ventures that have come in. Some are still in the discussion stage, formulation stage and at that time I’m not supposed to mention names. Some we have announced. One is Watami with a famous restaurant chain in Japan. What we are trying to do is to create a social business in Bangladesh, a joint venture to create restaurants for common people. Good, healthy food at affordable prices so that people don’t have to opt for food that is unhealthy and unhygienic.

Another one we are doing with Felissimo, a Japanese textile company. They use handloom products of Bangladesh in other products they make. For instance, they make handbags; they put a piece of handloom on top of it. So it will help promote Bangladeshi handloom.

Another one is Uniqlo, one of the largest chain stores in Japans. We produce sanitary napkins for women in the villages who never used sanitary napkins, and as a result are prone to a lot of infections and so on. They are produced in Bangladesh with a joint venture, and made very cheap, reusable, and easily available. We are already selling these door to door.

Given the recent controversy, do you wish you had done anything differently at Grameen?

No, I don’t think so. Grameen Bank has done the right thing. The thing is with hindsight you can always say I could have done this a little better, or that, but in general what we have done I think we did the right thing.

The only thing probably I would say, is if we could help the second generation to all become job givers faster.

 If we could expedite that, focus on that as a separate initiative I would feel much better. But at least we brought the first generation here, and the second generation we have really taken it way out from poverty.

Before BDR Mutiny : Jawans met Taposh to raise demands

Three months before the 2009 Pilkhana mutiny, some jawans of the now-defunct BDR had placed their demands to Awami League lawmaker Fazle Noor Taposh, which he conveyed to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina. 

The demands included 100 percent ration, promotion and scope for soldiers to work in foreign mission, according to the statement Taposh gave to police. 

In the statement recorded after the bloody mutiny, Taposh said that during the 2008 general election campaign, several BDR jawans met him four times between November and the election day (December 29), and requested him to convey those demands to Hasina.

The BDR men introduced themselves also as voters of Dhaka-12 constituency (Dhanmondi, New Market and Hazaribagh) from where Taposh was elected.

The Daily Star has obtained a copy of the statement from the prosecution of the BDR carnage case. At present, the prosecution is preparing to produce the VIP witnesses, including Taposh, before the court for depositions.

“VIP witnesses like the home minister, state ministers and lawmakers are supposed to give their depositions from the middle of March,” Mosharraf Hossain Kajol, prosecutor of the case, told this correspondent.

In his statement given under section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code, Taposh said he had been in no away aware of the leaflets that the disgruntled BDR jawans distributed just days before the February 25-26 bloodbath. 

The carnage left 74 people, including 57 top and mid-ranking army officers, dead. 

The statement reads that though he had meetings with the mutineers several times to persuade them to surrender arms, he did not know as yet anything about the killings inside Pilkhana. 

"Around 1:30pm on February 26, from discussions with the BDR jawans and from the media, I came to know that they killed some army officers and took part in arson and other incidents," the statement adds. 

The mutineers started surrendering arms soon after the prime minister in a televised speech around 2:00pm on February 26, urged them to immediately lay down their arms and return to barracks, so that she was not compelled to use force to break the standoff.

According to the statement, Taposh came to know about firing at Pilkhana at about 9:45am on February 25. 

He went to Jamuna, Hasina's residence, around 11:00am and saw some other leaders there.
A 14-member BDR team led by DAD Touhid went to Jamuna for talks. 

At the meeting, as the mutineers raised objection, the prime minister asked the chiefs of three forces to leave the room. Then the BDR members placed their demands in an "indiscipline manner". 

Hasina asked them to surrender their weapons first, saying their demands would be then considered. The group then left Jamuna, the statement said.

Taposh also narrated the surrender of arms following the prime minister's ultimatum and also the rescue of survived army officers and their family members. 


Ghulam Azam hailed Pak army atrocities

Prosecution tells war crimes tribunal.

Former Jamaat-e-Islami chief Ghulam Azam gave frequent statements praising and supporting the atrocities of the Pakistani occupation forces during the Liberation War in 1971, the International Crimes Tribunal was told yesterday.

Reading out the formal charges against Ghulam Azam, the prosecution said he repeatedly praised the Pakistani army and its auxiliary forces for protecting “Pakistani ideologies” and holding back the “miscreants and insurgents devastating the country”.

Ghulam Azam, 89, is facing charges on 62 specific crimes against humanity committed during the 1971 war. 

He is one of the front men who actively helped the Pakistani occupation forces' attempt to foil the birth of Bangladesh in 1971.

He had exclusive control over auxiliary forces, including the Peace Committee, Al Badr and Al Shams; and called for supplying the forces with modern arms so that they could effectively support the Pakistani army, the prosecution said, quoting a number of newspaper reports published in 1971.

The newspapers included the dailies Ittefaq, Sangram, Purbadesh, Pakistan and Azadi.

The three-member tribunal headed by Justice Md Nizamul Huq finished hearing the 191-page formal charges against Ghulam Azam yesterday.

Ghulam Azam was not brought to the tribunal yesterday from his prison cell at Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University hospital. The court excused him from being present due to his old age and physical weakness.

The tribunal, however, ordered the police to produce him before the court on February 27 when the prosecution will present a number of video clips and slides showing Ghulam Azam's role during the Liberation War.

According to Prosecutor Zead Al Malum, the videos include 1971 news items from TV channels CBS, NBC, CNBC and BBC, which the prosecution have collected from the US.

The videos also include a US government documentary that US Ambassador-at-Large for War Crimes Issues Stephen J Rapp had given to the prosecution on behalf of the US government, Malum told reporters following yesterday's court proceedings.

Ghulam Azam is among six Jamaat-e-Islami leaders and two BNP leaders now facing war crimes charges at the tribunal.

Chief Prosecutor Ghulam Arieff Tipoo along with prosecutors Saiful Islam, Nurjahan Begum Mukta and Zead Al Malum read out the formal charges before the tribunal yesterday.

“On June 18, 1971, while talking to journalists in Lahore airport, Ghulam Azam snubbed any possibilities of giving power to the elected officials, and pledged support to the Pakistani rulers to maintain peace,” said Saiful Islam.

He had termed the pro-liberation people as “separatists” and called on to the government to hand arms to “reliable people” to save Pakistan's ideology, said Islam, adding that Ghulam Azam referred to the Jamaat-e-Islami, Al Badr and Al Shams members as reliable people.

Ghulam Azam gave a similar statement on at least three other occasions, according to the formal charges.

“On August 8, 1971, he called the insurgency 'Mir Jafari' [treachery similar to what Mir Jafar did to overthrow the last free nawab of Bangla] activities and a part of Indian conspiracy,” said Nurjahan Begum Mukta, quoting news reports of the dailies Sangram, Purbadesh and Ittefaq.

On the same day, he thanked the Pakistani army for managing to hold back the “miscreants” in the face of “massive adversities”, the prosecutor said.

Ghulam Azam also praised the role of peace committee members and collaborators; and called on the Bangalee Muslims to accept Pakistani ideologies if they wanted to “save their existence” on two other occasions, the prosecution said.

Later, prosecutor Zead Al Malum said 38 prisoners of Brahmanbaria jail including policeman Shiru Miah were killed on Ghulam Azam's orders.

“He held meetings with Abul Ala Maududi, Yahya Khan and Tikka Khan,” said the prosecutor, adding that Ghulam Azam was involved in conspiring against innocent Bangalees and instigating assaults on them.

Reading out the concluding section of the formal charges, Chief Prosecutor Ghulam Arieff Tipoo prayed to the tribunal to take action against Ghulam Azam as per provision of the International Crimes Tribunal Act.

In his submission, Tipoo said the detained Jamaat leader had committed crimes against humanity and peace alongside genocide, killing and other grievous offences during the Liberation War.

Earlier on the day, the tribunal adjourned until today the recording of prosecution witnesses' deposition against Jamaat Nayeb-e-Ameer Delawar Hossain Sayedee, who is also facing charges of crime against humanity at the tribunal.

The court passed the adjournment order since the scheduled prosecution witness did not appear before the tribunal due to personal difficulties.

Fatwa-related crimes persist

Strict, prompt action require. 

A recent case of a woman and her husband's male friend being sentenced to 101 lashings for engaging in 'anti-social activities' made its way into some newspapers. The woman, from Naogaon, was reportedly talking to her husband's friend in her home where no other male member was present. Upon discovering this, an over-enthusiastic neighbour claimed that the two were engaging in unethical relations and caught and tied the man to a tree. A local arbitration later sentenced both the woman and man to 101 lashings each, and fined them a total of Tk. 5,000. The money was later used to feed sweets to the locals to celebrate saving of the woman's marriage, according to a local influential who was a part of the arbitration. The sentence, as is often the case, was given by a local religious leader. 

For all practical purposes, the case is one of fatwa, a so-called religious edict, but which has been used vindictively time and again by local religious and community leaders to punish whom they judge to be 'deviant' persons, most often, poor, illiterate women. The Supreme Court last year declared fatwa legal in 'religious matters' only and categorically said that such edicts cannot be imposed on anyone, used to punish anyone or violate rights which are protected by the laws of the land. Incidents such as the above clearly do all three, yet they continue unabated, especially in remote areas of the country, where local influential community members use their power to exploit and punish the poor and helpless. 
In order to end such crimes, this and similar cases must be thoroughly investigated, the perpetrators brought to book with exemplary punishment. These acts are not only illegal but outright barbaric and totally against the rule of law.

Killings, Border Crimes : Dhaka to ask Delhi to step up joint patrol

Bangladesh will ask India to strengthen joint patrols on the border to check crimes and killings of Bangladeshi nationals by India's Border Security Force, said a high official at the home ministry. 

Dhaka will seek explanations from New Delhi on the recent killings of Bangladeshis by the BSF. 

Bangladesh has pinpointed more than 350 smuggling-prone spots on the Bangladesh-India border with India's help. Most killings on the border happen in such areas, and unarmed people often fall victim to BSF firing.

More joint patrols would be arranged under the Combined Border Management Plan the two countries had signed on July 30 last year, said Kamal Uddin Ahmed, additional secretary to the home ministry.

“Now joint patrol is carried out at 117 points on the Bangladesh-India border. At least 981 joint patrols have been conducted at those points since August last year. It proved very effective in reducing border killings and smuggling at those points.”

Border Guard Bangladesh and BSF exchange information and fix the time and spot for conducting joint patrols, mostly at night. Both the security forces patrol the border simultaneously, Kamal said.

The secretary said the issue of conducting joint patrols at 350 more points would be raised today at the three-day talks between the home ministers of the two countries. 

Home Minister Shahara Khatun, who will lead a 12-member delegation, leaves for New Delhi this morning to hold talks with her Indian counterpart P Chidambaram.

Bangladesh would ask India to fulfil its pledge to use rubber bullets instead of lethal ones on the border to check the killings of Bangladeshi nationals, he said.

The government has information that new phensidyl factories have been set up on the Indian side targeting addicts in Bangladesh, though India has repeatedly assured Bangladesh that such factories will be removed from bordering areas, said a source at the home ministry.

Bangladesh has prepared a list of such factories and will hand it over to the Indian authorities during the talks. The two countries will also exchange lists of criminals.

The two sides will review the progress of “Transfer of Sentenced Persons” treaty that was signed during Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's visit to India in 2010.

Under the terms of the agreement, Indian nationals serving jail terms in Bangladesh prisons will be allowed to complete the remaining terms in Indian prisons if they so wish.

The same option will be available to Bangladeshi nationals serving jail terms in Indian prisons, said the source.

Kamal said the jail authorities had prepared a list of Indian prisoners who wished to leave Bangladesh in line with the treaty. The Indian authorities have also prepared a similar list. The lists would be exchanged during the talks, Kamal said.

Bangladesh will urge India to simplify the visa process for Bangladeshi nationals and stop asking for unnecessary documents from visa seekers, he said.

The Bangladesh delegation will raise the issue of ratifying the protocol concerning un-demarcated land boundary, enclaves and adversely-possessed land. The protocol was signed during Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's visit to Bangladesh. 

It will also seek explanations from India for the BSF chief's remark on February 8 that it would not be possible to put a total stop to firing along the border as his troops must take steps to stop the offenders, said another source at the home ministry. 

The BSF chief's comment came after BSF brutalities on Bangladeshi nationals were shown on Indian TV channels. 

The issue of the repatriation of two killers of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman would also be raised during the talks, said the source.


7 crazy sex facts about the Prince of Brunei

If you had trillions of dollars, your own country and not much to do, things must get really boring. That's one way to rationalize why Prince Jefri of Brunei commissioned a pair of sexually active statues built in his and his fiancee's likeness. (Scroll though the photos here.) The Sultan of Brunei's brother is famous for being a perverse Richie Rich. And his reckless sexually motivated spending habits are the reason the photos of these statues are coming to light. They're part of evidence in his long running court case with his former business advisors. Despite his pleas with the judge to keep the photos of the statues private, the evidence was released to the public today. And we can't get enough of them.

First of all, the statue of Jefri looks more like a former member of 98 degrees. Secondly, the artist earned close to $1 million for his work. Thirdly: Jefri wants a mustache added to the male statue.

This all may seem shocking to those who haven't followed his exploits in the past. But if you look at the Prince of Brunei's history of alleged sexual expenses, it's hard to believe it took him this long to commission those life-sized sex dolls.
  • Here's a look back at the highlights:
  • He named his yacht S.S Tits.
  • He keeps a harem of around 40 women, paying as much as $20k for two week stints arranged through his team of "casting" associates.
  • He purchased several sculptured fountain pens featuring nude women on the lid and nude men on the barrel. Guess what happens when you put them together? Ecstasy--if you're into pens.
  • He also owned a collection of 10 watches worth about 5 million Swiss Francs. Here's why: the design on the face of clock features a couple who mechanically copulate, every hour on the hour.
  • He's been accused of purchasing up to 50 so-called "prostitute palaces" for the express purpose of orgy and karaoke parties with women flown in from around the world.

Formal charges against Ghulam Azam read out

Deposition against Sayedee deferred till Thursday.


The prosecution on Wednesday concluded reading out the formal charges against former Jamaat-e-Islami ameer Ghulam Azam for his alleged crimes against humanity during the country's Liberation War. 

Chief Prosecutor Ghulam Arieff Tipoo during his submission prayed to the International Crimes Tribunal to take action against Ghulam Azam as per provision of International Crimes Tribunal Act.

In his submission, Tipoo said the detained Jamaat leader had committed crimes against humanity and peace alongside genocide, killing and some other grievous offences during the Liberation War in 1971.

The three-judge tribunal headed by its Chairman Justice Nizamul Huq asked the prosecution to show video footage on February 27 on the alleged crimes against humanity committed by Ghulam Azam.

It also adjourned the hearing on the charge framing against Ghulam Azam till February 27 and asked the jail authorities to produce the detained Jamaat leader before it on the day. 

Earlier in the day, the tribunal adjourned till Thursday the recording of prosecution witnesses' deposition against another war crimes accused Jamaat Nayeb-e-Ameer Delawar Hossain Sayedee.

The court passed the adjournment order since the scheduled prosecution witness did not appear before the tribunal due to his personal difficulties. 

Hasina wants EU to nominate Yunus as WB chief

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina requested the European Union on Wednesday to nominate Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus as the president of the World Bank.

She made the request when visiting member of EU Parliament Jean Lambert called on the PM at her office.

According to meeting sources, Hasina said Nobel Laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus is respected all over the world for his outstanding contribution to alleviating poverty through microcredit activities.

She said Prof Yunus’ experience would be a valuable asset for the WB to expand its activities to different countries of the world.

The premier said the EU could persuade the concerned authorities to make Prof Yunus as the WB president for the welfare of the world.

She said the Nobel Laureate has vast experience to run big institutions like Grameen Bank and other organisations having excellent reputations in the world.

The WB is planning to appoint a new president by the time of the annual spring meetings in April.

Incumbent WB chief Robert Zoellick said Wednesday he would not seek a second five-year term and planned to step down by the end of June.

The WB said the selection process will be "merit-based and transparent" with all the executive directors able to nominate and consider all candidates. Nominations must be received by March 23. 

The board will then draw a shortlist of prospects for a formal interview process.