DHAKA, Bangladesh – Recent comments by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that she hopes Bangladesh's government will not interfere in internationally acclaimed microlender Grameen Bank were unwarranted, a Cabinet official said Tuesday.
Finance Minister A.M.A. Muhith said the government has never meddled in the bank and denied claims by its founder, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus, that the administration is trying to take it over.
"Can you say what problems have you seen over the past one year in the bank's operation," he asked.
"Everything is going well. ... I am sorry to say, but this (Yunus' claim) is absolutely rubbish," Muhith told reporters.
Muhith said Clinton's comments were "unwarranted" and that the government would not change its policy toward Grameen.
"Whatever Hillary says, we are maintaining our previous position," he said.
Clinton told a town hall audience in Dhaka on Sunday that Grameen Bank was a "tremendous" model for the developing world and that its structure should not be tinkered with.
Clinton is a personal friend of Yunus and met with him for about 45 minutes at the U.S. ambassador's residence before the town hall.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's administration ousted Yunus, 71, as managing director of Grameen Bank last year in a dispute over retirement age. Yunus argued he was exempt from regulations that set the banking retirement age at 60, but lost a court appeal.
Yunus has long had frosty relations with Hasina. She was reportedly angered by Yunus' 2007 attempt to form his own political party backed by the powerful army when the country was under a state of emergency and Hasina herself was behind bars.
Last month, Muhith said the government would investigate 54 businesses linked to the Grameen Bank because they had not been authorized by the bank's board. A Bangladesh government-appointed investigation last year found that the bank violated its charter as a microlender by creating affiliates that did not benefit the bank's shareholders, and recommended the government integrate those affiliates with the bank.
Yunus maintains those social businesses are independent and should remain so.
Grameen was a pioneer in issuing small loans to the poor as a way to overcome poverty, earning it and Yunus the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. It has about 9 million borrowers, mostly women.