Documentary: “Caught in Microdebt” by Tom Heinemann

Tonight a documentary will be aired on NRK Television where investigative documentary maker and journalist, Tom Heinemann,  reveals some dubious goings on in the financial empire that is Grameen. It again involves Professor Yunus duping the Norwegians ( this time the Norwegian government ) into giving him and his outfit money.

Sensational documents are being released by NRK show that the Norwegian Embassy in Dhaka was very seriously concerned by funds which were given to Grameen and which were then suddenly and without any notice transferred to Grameen Kaylan (you can find them here). There follows an exchange of letters where Yunus tries to justify his actions.   Professor Yunus  engages in the most specious reasoning to hoodwink the Norwegian ambassador. Clearly it had little or no impact and Yunus then turns to the head of the Norwegian aid organisation, NORAD, practically begging for a cover-up and for assistance.

The ambassador argued that the money was given to Grameen because of its nature and its ownership structure. If the money is transferred to another entity and then loaned back to it, as Yunus suggested was happening,  there would be a loss of equity for Grameen itself apart from the fact that the entire move was an ultra-vires one. Incredibly Yunus tries to argue that the financial discipline of Grameen would be improved if its equity was moved to Grameen Kaylan.

That aid funds should be used for purposes which are agreed upon is surely a principal which is in the interests of everyone to keep. How else are you going to assure donors to give? Only the staggering arrogance of someone like Yunus could contemplate such a flagrant dismissal of the agreement.

More than that - funds went missing apparently, Heinemann argues. Questions need answering. And Norwegians need to ask how long they are going to keep supporting this banker who is not even accountable to his own creditors.

The documentary also looks at the effectiveness of Grameen, and unsurprisingly concludes that it has had little impact on poverty. There are interviews with academics and experts from Bangladesh and elsewhere. In one segment Heinemann visits the home of the celebrated original grameen loan-taker - Sufiya Begum of Jobra Village. Celebrated in grameen folklore that is. He finds some very uncomfortable stories. She died in poverty and her daughters were beggars.

More about “Caught in micro-debt” here http://www.nrk.no/programmer/tv/brennpunkt/1.7404230

And the full program in Norwegian ( international version coming in January) is HERE.

Here is Tom Heinemann’s blog post with a nice post by Milford Bateman - one of the development specialists featured in the film.