DHAKA, Nov 6: Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus on Wednesday blasted the Bangladesh government after it passed a law he said would pave the way for the “ultimate destruction” of Grameen Bank, the pioneering microlender he founded.

The bill passed by parliament late on Tuesday tightens the government's grip on the bank set up to fight poverty, and brings it under ever closer control of the central bank.

Yunus, who was ousted from the lender in 2011 in what was seen as a politically engineered move, condemned the new law and said it “created the opportunity for the government to take 100 per cent control of the bank”, with which he shared the Nobel.

“Grameen Bank was created as a bank owned by poor women, and managed by poor women. Its legal structure did not allow any government interference of any kind, except for regulatory oversight,” he said in a statement.

“These amendments fundamentally change the character of the bank. With these amendments, the government has opened the door for its ultimate destruction. What a shame for the nation, and the whole world!”

“I feel extremely sorry that the nation has to go through the unnecessary traumatic experience of seeing a great global iconic institution, created by this nation, be brutally harmed by a group of irresponsible and thoughtless people,” he added.

Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith defended the new law, saying it was a constitutional requirement because the original ordinance that created the bank in 1983 during military rule must be passed by parliament.

“The Supreme Court has outlawed all ordinances that were enacted by the military regime,” he said on Tuesday.

The new law replaced the Grameen Bank Ordinance but also made some amendments, bringing its finances under close supervision of the central bank and raising its authorised capital level.

From now on the bank's new branches must also be approved by the central bank and it cannot run any business beyond its mandated area of lending to landless entrepreneurs in rural areas.

The government has progressively moved to control the bank, raising its stake to 25pc from around 3pc. The Supreme Court has ruled that Grameen is a state-owned bank no matter what the government's stake is.

It ordered a commission on the future status of the bank and has launched a tax probe against Yunus, who has been at odds with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina since 2007 when he made a brief foray into politics.

The 73-year-old economist, who won a Nobel prize in 2006, was branded a “bloodsucker” by Hasina and has recently been the subject of a hate campaign by state-funded Islamic clerics.

Yunus set up the bank to make small loans to rural women entrepreneurs which helped lift millions out of poverty. Microcredit was then adopted in other parts of the world, earning him global fame and celebrity status.—AFP

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