Open letter to Senator Chuck Grassley regarding Professor Yunus

Today RESULTS sent a public letter to U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley regarding Professor Yunus and the ongoing situation in Bangladesh. The letter responds to one from Senator Grassley to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on June 1. The full text of the letter from RESULTS follows:

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Dear Senator Grassley,

I am writing in reference to your letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dated June 1, 2017, regarding then-Secretary Hillary Clinton’s engagement with the ongoing situation in Bangladesh and efforts to protect Professor Muhammad Yunus. I would like to clarify some points within the letter and provide additional information that might answer some of your questions. Thank you for your consideration of these points.

As you may know, the current Prime Minister has a longstanding hostility toward Professor Yunus dating back to 2010. The events affecting Professor Yunus are also part of broader, politically-motivated efforts by the Prime Minister against civil society space and freedom of expression.[i]

With regards to Professor Yunus, there have also been a significant number of misleading, exaggerated, or inaccurate media reports, in particular from sources allied with the current ruling government in Bangladesh.

Media reports cited in the letter suggest that Professor Yunus and organizations he was involved in received preferential treatment because of donations to the Clinton Foundation or its affiliated Clinton Global Initiative.  The funds described as “donations” to the Clinton Foundation were actually registration fees that Vidar Jorgenson, a volunteer member of the board of two organizations Professor Yunus established, paid to attend the Clinton Global Initiative on a number of occasions. As per IRS guidelines, a portion of this registration fee is tax deductible, and thus considered a “donation.” Mr. Jorgenson has thoroughly addressed these registration fees in a public statement.[ii] As an invited speaker at CGI, Professor Yunus was not required to pay a registration fee.[iii]

The letter, drawing from media reports, also states that “Secretary Clinton’s Department of State reportedly awarded more than $13 million in taxpayer funds to businesses aligned with Yunus.” However, the U.S. government database cited in the article referenced in the letter shows that the amount of direct grants from USAID received by Grameen Foundation USA, a U.S.-based organization inspired by Professor Yunus, during Secretary Clinton’s tenure at the State Department was $1,635,679, not “more than $13 million.”[iv] Additionally, Grameen Foundation USA is a not-for-profit organization, not a business, and Professor Yunus has not served on its Board of Directors since 2009, serving as an Emeritus member since that time.[v]

In addition to these direct grants to Grameen Foundation USA during Secretary Clinton’s tenure, it received a single sub-grant from another non-profit supported by USAID in the amount of $125,512.

Grameen Foundation was chosen for this grant by an independent, non-profit organization (the prime contractor in this case) through a competitive process.[vi]

Furthermore, in October 2009 USAID joined a loan guarantee pool that Grameen Foundation USA had established with private support in 2005. These loan guarantees never resulted in any payments from the U.S. government because there were no defaults on the underlying loans that were guaranteed during the time USAID participated in this innovative program. Grameen America, a separate U.S. organization inspired by Professor Yunus that focuses on assisting low-income people in the United States, also received some grants and loans during this period, but those were from agencies that Secretary Clinton was not affiliated with.

The other grants/loans listed on the government website search were either (1) to beneficiaries of the loan guarantees provided by Grameen Foundation USA (the program described above) which entailed no outlay of U.S. taxpayer dollars, (2) to organizations not affiliated with Professor Yunus, or (3) made after Secretary Clinton left office.

It is certainly true that the Government of Bangladesh’s aggressive and unsubstantiated attacks on Professor Yunus and the Grameen Bank have drawn protests from government officials and private citizens around the world, including Secretary Clinton when she was Secretary of State. Former Secretaries of State George Schultz and Madeline Albright were among those who protested, including writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2012 under the title, “A Nobel Prize Winner Under Siege.”[vii]  Congress recognized Professor Yunus’ humanitarian accomplishments by awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal in 2013. At that ceremony, then-Speaker John Boehner and Senator Mike Enzi were among those who offered tributes.

I, and many others, have been deeply concerned about Professor Yunus’s situation in Bangladesh as the attacks against him by the government have ramped up over the past few months. Professor Yunus and the Grameen Bank he founded focus on social entrepreneurship and women’s economic empowerment, and have helped lead to incredible progress in the fight against poverty in Bangladesh and countries around the world – efforts that are consistent with the goals and values the U.S. promotes worldwide.

Thank you for taking the time to consider this information and additional issues. I would be happy to provide further information on any of the issues, or help facilitate conversations with others involved in this situation.

Sincerely,

Joanne Carter
Executive Director
RESULTS and RESULTS Educational Fund

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The original letter from Senator Grassley to Secretary Tillerson is available here.

[i] “Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Uses Piety to Mask Misrule,” The Economist, Jun. 1, 2017 (http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21722831-islamists-she-courting-will-never-be-satisfied-bangladeshs-prime-minister-uses-piety).

[ii] Yunus Centre, A Statement from Mr. Vidar Jorgensen, Co-Founder and Founding President of Grameen America, about his “Donations” to CGI, http://www.muhammadyunus.org/index.php/news-media/responses-to-media-stories/ap-corrects-itself/1598-a-statement-from-mr-vidar-jorgensen-co-founder-and-founding-president-of-grameen-america-about-his-donations-to-cgi (Jun. 16, 2017).

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] USA Spending, https://www.usaspending.gov/Pages/AdvancedSearch.aspx?k=grameen (Jun. 16, 2017).

[v] Grameen Foundation, Grameen Foundation Responds to Associated Press Article, Aug. 26, 2016 (http://www.grameenfoundation.org/press-releases/grameen-foundation-responds-associated-press-article).

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] George Schultz and Madeleine Albright, “A Nobel Prize Winner Under Siege,” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 5, 2012 (https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10000872396390443759504577629620737997542).