The Daily Star editor asks Muhith to prove allegations against Yunus
No less a person than our finance minister has accused Prof Yunus, our only Nobel Laureate and the most well known and well regarded Bangladeshi in the world today, of carrying out, “with his wonderful publicity machinery”, anti-Bangladesh propaganda worldwide. “He is the single major reason for Bangladesh’s failure to project its positive image”, Muhith said and quoted Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in this regard. Amartya Sen, in a written reply, to The Daily Star received yesterday refuted Muhith’s claim and asked him to withdraw his comment attributed to him (See separate story on this page).
Yunus, according to our finance minister, is also preventing direct foreign investment for want of which we are “starving”, he said. He also accused Yunus of dishonesty saying, “everything he says does not reflect the whole truth”.
For any Bangladeshi to carry out anti-national propaganda is a supreme moral crime. And for a man of Prof Yunus’ stature it is more so. This statement of AMA Muhith comes as a great shock to millions of Bangladeshis, especially the young who feel proud of Prof Yunus and consider him to be a role model.
Those of us who support his cause, like this writer; those who think that he has brought tremendous honour and prestige for the country by his activities; those who think that his pioneering idea of micro credit– that has been emulated in more than a hundred countries spanning all the continents, all economies (capitalist and socialist), all political systems (democratic, communist, monarchy, one-party, multi-party) and among both rich and poor nations; those who think that with all its weaknesses micro credit has so far been the most effective and self-sustainable system of fighting poverty; those who think that Yunus is an excellent institution builder who set up the first ever bank solely for the poor women serving 8 million borrowers and built nearly fifty other separate companies aimed at solving specific problems faced by the poor — like housing, energy, health, education — and those who consider him to be one of the greatest and most successful image builders of Bangladesh MUST know the TRUTH about this man.
It is the DUTY of the finance minister to tell the people how Yunus is damaging the image and harming the interest of the very country he spent his whole life working to improve.
So the least Mr. Muhith can do is to PROVE what he said. We would like to know when, where and how Prof Yunus hurt Bangladesh’s interest. We would like to know which foreign investments were deterred by Yunus and when. As the finance minister he has all the resources and the staff to gather facts. So he must give the nation FACTS, not claims, surmises and innuendos and implied meanings. We want the plain truth so that we stop admiring Yunus as we do.
Minister Muhith also said that because of Yunus Bangladesh’s good work is not being publicised and appreciated. When journalists asked why, Muhith said because of his “wonderful publicity machinery”.
Are we to understand that all these leaders — from the USA, France, Germany, China, Saudi Arabia, India, Indonesia, Japan — to name just a few, known the world over for their leadership and wisdom and who respect Yunus and grant him audience whenever occasions call for, are basically fools who have been duped by Yunus’ “publicity machinery”?
Are we to understand that hardnosed investors who search the world for a place to invest and brave the harshest of circumstances to make a profit forego Bangladesh as a profit making destination because Yunus said so?
Who are we fooling?
On the contrary, can the fact be refuted that possible FDI from French and German companies like Adidas for cheap but durable shoes for villagers, malaria preventing mosquito repellent nets by BASF, vital nutrition providing yoghurt by Danone and cheap pure rural water supply by Viola were either not allowed in or made to suffer various obstacles just because they were linked with Yunus’ projects dealing with the poor?
And what about KEPZ? The deal was signed 17 years ago. And yet, land ownership documents have not been completed. Samsung wanted to locate one of their smartphone factories there employing about 50,000 people, it is learnt. But they decided against it because of the ambiguity of the situation. If the government feels that the original contract does not serve Bangladesh’s interest well, then it should renegotiate and implement the project so that foreign companies can seriously think of investing there. Keeping it uncertain is a sheer way of driving away FDI.
As for Yunus’ good press, are we to understand that the world famous media institutions, who are otherwise quite capable of being discerning, objective and brutally honest, suddenly lose all their critical faculties when they are faced with that disarming Yunus smile?
If we think foreign leaders, investors and global media are so naive as to be guided by one man’s briefing, then we are obviously not expecting to be taken seriously by any one of the above groups.
It is with a heavy heart that we write this piece, for we respect the finance minister. His integrity is beyond question, his patriotism is well known, his capacity for hard work can put to shame most of his younger colleagues, his honesty of purpose is exemplary. Yet, shunning decency he has chosen to question the honesty, integrity and patriotism of a man like Prof Yunus who is a source of pride for the nation. That is why we reiterate our demand that the finance minister must PROVE what he has said for the good of the nation. In this regard, we are ready to publish his interview or a written text by him providing the necessary proof that decency demands.
Nobel laureate Prof Amartya Sen has expressed surprise at Finance Minister AMA Muhith’s comments that he made on Thursday attributing to him about Nobel laureate Prof Muhammad Yunus.
In a written reply to a query from The Daily Star, Sen hoped that Muhith would withdraw his wrong attribution to him about Yunus.
Quoting Sen Muhith on Thursday told reporter in Dhaka, “Professor Sen told me that so many good things are happening in this country but they are not highlighted anywhere in the world only because of Professor Yunus.”
But Sen yesterday said: “I am particularly surprised — indeed astonished — to see his attributing to me a view that is not mine. Indeed, the alleged utterance is not close to anything I told Muhith when we met briefly at the VIP lounge in the Bangkok Airport last month.”
The India-born Bangalee economist added that he was not at all accusing Yunus of preventing the recognition and praise that Bangladesh deserves.
“Rather, I was pointing to the fact that the treatment of Yunus — and its interpretation in the outside world — have been strongly inhibiting factors working against the justified acclaim that Bangladesh’s stellar achievements could otherwise be expected to get in the world,” Sen said in his emailed statement.
Prof Yunus, who is now in Austria for a global social business summit, when approached by The Daily Star, said he would not comment on the issue.
SEN’S FULL STATEMENT
I have known Mr Muhith for a long time and like him a lot (and I also think he is an excellent finance minister), and in view of all this, I am particularly surprised — indeed astonished — to see his attributing to me a view that is not mine. Indeed, the alleged utterance is not close to anything I told Muhith when we met briefly at the VIP lounge in the Bangkok Airport last month.
What I told him included the following:
1) Bangladesh has made extraordinary progress on economic and social matters at a very rapid pace in recent years — a subject on which I have written in American and Indian newspapers and periodicals (I have also commented on the fact that Bangladesh has overtaken India in most of the standard indicators of living standards);
2) Prime Minister Hasina, whom I much admire, can certainly claim great credit for her leadership in the transformation of Bangladesh into a powerfully progressive modern society, and this does deserve hugely more global recognition;
3) The constructive roles of Bangladeshi NGOs, including the positive parts played by BRAC and Grameen Bank in the progress of Bangladesh, deserve emphatic recognition;
4) I am saddened by the fact that Bangladesh’s achievements get far less acknowledgement and praise in the world media than they should get;
5) Among the principal factors behind this widespread global reluctance to say good things about Bangladesh’s progress is a shared resentment by a large section of influential intellectuals across the world of the harsh official treatment of Dr Yunus in Bangladesh.
I was not at all accusing Yunus of preventing the recognition and praise that Bangladesh deserves (as Mr Muhith seems to be saying). Rather, I was pointing to the fact that the treatment of Yunus — and its interpretation in the outside world — have been strongly inhibiting factors working against the justified acclaim that Bangladesh’s stellar achievements could otherwise be expected to get in the world.
I hope Mr Muhith will withdraw his wrong attribution to me, in the light of my reminding him of exactly what I told him.
WHAT MUHITH SAID ON THURSDAY
The finance minister claimed Amartya Sen viewed Prof Yunus as the single major reason behind Bangladesh’s failure to project its positive image on the world stage.
Asked how an individual like Yunus could do so, Muhith told reporters in the capital: “He has wonderful publicity machinery.”
The minister also questioned the honesty of Prof Yunus, whose microcredit model won him and Grameen Bank Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.