Congress Expresses Support for Yunus, Concern for Independence of Grameen Bank

Washington, DC (March 15, 2011) — Congressional leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives expressed concern over efforts by the government of Bangladesh to oust Nobel Peace Laureate Muhammad Yunus from his position as managing director of Grameen Bank. Today the Bangladeshi Supreme Court opted for a two week delay on a decision whether to hear Professor Yunus’ appeal of the government’s action to remove him.

A bipartisan letter to the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, led by Assistant Majority Leader Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), stated that members of Congress were “troubled by what appears to have been a months-long effort on the part of the Bangladeshi government to discredit Professor Yunus and remove him as managing director while increasing government influence at Grameen Bank. These efforts raise concerns about the government’s motivations and the impact such efforts may have on the strong and important U.S.-Bangladesh relationship.” The letter continues that it would be “very disappointing to see Bangladesh’s thriving civil society, microfinance sector, and international reputation negatively affected” by these continued actions. They encourage the prime minister to find a solution that treats Prof. Yunus with “the dignity he deserves while preserving the effectiveness and operational integrity of Grameen Bank.”

In a separate statement, Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was “deeply concerned by efforts to remove Muhammad Yunus as managing director of the Grameen Bank.”

“Institutions like the Grameen Bank make a significant contribution to Bangladesh’s development and democracy, and Professor Yunus’s life-long work to reduce poverty and empower women through microloans has deservedly received world-wide attention and respect,” Kerry said.

Members of the House Congressional Caucus on Bangladesh also voiced concern in a letter to the Prime Minister, saying they were “troubled” by the efforts to force Yunus from his position at Grameen Bank. Noting the progress Bangladesh has made in fighting poverty, the representatives expressed concern that the government’s campaign targeting Yunus was “beginning to overshadow these concrete gains and introduce uncertainty regarding one of Bangladesh’s most visible and beloved institutions.” The caucus urged a resolution of the situation that “ensures the ongoing independence of Grameen Bank.” The letter was signed by 27 members of Congress including Rep. Joseph Crowley, caucus founder and chair, and Rep. Howard Berman, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on Women’s Issues, also expressed her alarm in a statement, calling the Bangladeshi government’s actions “a dangerous threat the autonomy of the Grameen Bank and its ongoing microfinance programs.”

Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr., a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee’s State, Foreign Operations Subcommittee added that the “Bangladeshi government’s actions represent a direct attack on its civil society and could reverse its progress in achieving development goals.”

Last year Congress passed a bill with overwhelming bipartisan support to award Yunus the Congressional Gold Medal. In 2009 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. These two awards are the United States’ highest civilian honors.

“We share the concerns of Congress that the independence of Grameen Bank, and by extension all of civil society in Bangladesh, are in jeopardy,” said Joanne Carter, Executive Director of RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund. “We call on the government of Bangladesh to halt its campaign to remove Professor Yunus and instead allow the board and borrowers of Grameen Bank to decide on a fair and orderly leadership transition that preserves the independence of this borrower-owned institution.”[1]

Co-signers of the Durbin letter included Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO), Sen. John Boozman (R-AR), Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Michael Enzi (R-WY), and Rep. Rush Holt (D-NJ).

Members of Congressional Caucus on Bangladesh who signed the letter to are Gary Ackerman (D-NY), Shelly Berkley (D-NY), Howard Berman (D-CA), Jerry Connolly (D-VA), Joseph Crowley (D-NY), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Michael Honda (D-CA), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX), Peter King (R-NY), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Steve Lynch (D-MA), Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Gregory Meeks (D-NY), Jim Moran (D-VA), Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), Grace Napolitano (D-CA), Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), David Price (D-NC), Charlie Rangel (D-NY), Sylvestre Reyes (D-TX), Brad Sherman (D-CA), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Anthony Weiner (D-NY), David Wu (D-OR).

[1] Borrowers of Grameen Bank at present own 95 percent of the total equity of the bank. The remaining 5 percent is owned by the government.


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