The ekShop, a groundbreaking project launched by Aspire to Innovate (a2i), has been honored with the United Nations' prestigious 'SDG Digital GameChangers Award' for its remarkable efforts in diminishing the urban-rural divide by introducing e-commerce services to remote areas of Bangladesh. This accolade was presented in the 'Game Changer for Prosperity' category, a joint initiative by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Telecommunication Union (ITU).
The award ceremony, a highlight of the UN's dedicated SDG Action Weekend, took place on September 16th at the UN Headquarters in New York. A2i's Policy Advisor, Mr. Anir Chowdhury, Head of Commercial Strategy, Mr. Rezwanul Haque Jami, and Programme Associate (Outreach & Resource Mobilization), Mr. Md Sahariar Hasan, proudly accepted the award on behalf of the organization.
The SDG Digital GameChangers Award recognizes individuals and organizations at the forefront of digital solutions aimed at accelerating progress toward global goals. The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with other partners and supporters, presented this award in five categories: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace, and Pioneer.
Despite the worldwide adoption of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, achieving these 17 Goals and their 169 associated targets remains a significant challenge. Accelerating progress necessitates the rapid adoption of digital technologies and continuous innovation. As leaders from governments and businesses worldwide convened for the United Nations General Assembly, a new UN-led partnership recognized digital innovators dedicated to SDG success.
The ekShop, with its inclusive e-commerce model, empowers small and medium-sized enterprises, refugees, and individuals facing digital disparities, particularly in the least-developed countries. This initiative has emerged as a vital digital public good, effectively bridging the digital divide and making a substantial impact. This achievement not only reflects positively on Bangladesh but also sets an example for others worldwide to develop sustainable economic systems aligned with the SDGs.
The ekShop stands as Bangladesh's pioneering rural-assisted e-commerce platform, with a primary mission to deliver essential products swiftly and conveniently to people's doorsteps. Currently, over 12 thousand rural artisans are actively selling their products through this platform, which has already facilitated the delivery of more than 8 million products to various regions of the country via cash on delivery.
Sellers interested in showcasing and selling their products can easily join the ekShop platform, either independently or with assistance from entrepreneurs at Union Digital Centres. Moreover, the ekShop offers a comprehensive delivery management system, which proved invaluable during the COVID-19 pandemic. This service is accessible to any e-commerce organization or entrepreneur for product delivery, with the involvement of the Post & Telecommunication Division and various product delivery organizations nationwide.
To address the digital disparity issue, the ekShop's model is being replicated not only within Bangladesh but also in underdeveloped countries such as South Sudan, Yemen, Turkey, Somalia, and a province of the Philippines. The United Nations is actively supporting the expansion of this model beyond Bangladesh's borders.
a2i, a comprehensive government program implemented by the ICT Division and Cabinet Division, with support from UNDP Bangladesh, plays a pivotal role in promoting citizen-friendly public service innovations, simplifying government procedures, and bringing government services closer to the people. It aligns with the government's efforts to adopt new, whole-of-society approaches in achieving the SDGs.
Foreign Minister of Bangladesh Dr. A. K. Abdul Momen in a statement stated "I recall with sadness the 9/11 Twin Tower devastation, in which 2,988 innocent people lost their lives, of which 6 were from Bangladesh and 3 were from my own district, Sylhet. While we pray for their salvation, we hope that such will never reoccur again.
We are pleased that our recent discussion with the US leadership is very encouraging. It has taken many steps to end terrorism. In Bangladesh, due to Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's zero-tolerance policy to terrorism, there have not been any bomb blasts, grenade attacks, and fear of deaths due to terrorist attacks".
He wished that all should work together sincerely so that under any pretext, the ugly face of terrorists and radicals do not get heyday as they did from 2001 through 2006.
In 1997 when Dr. Yunus received license of Grameen Telecom (hereinafter referred to as “GTC”) from the Hon’ble Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, he gave commitment that GTC would work only for the welfare and betterment of the poor people. Unfortunately, after taking the license, he thought only for his own interest and handed over the lion portion of shares of Grameen Phone Limited to the foreign company. At present GTC owns 34.20% shares in Grameen Phone Limited against which it receives thousands crores of dividend in every year. Most of this dividend income of GTC is illegally syphoned out of the country in the name of the so called social business of Dr. Yunus. Against the illegal activities of Dr. Yunus and his company, GTC, two types of legal action can be taken, (1) Initiating criminal proceedings against Dr. Yunus and his board members in accordance with applicable laws of the country, and (2) Winding up the GTC through court and taking over the properties of the GTC and handing over to any similar company under the management of the Government as per the provisions of Companies Act, 1994.
Bribing the Court to Get Favourable Verdict: Dr. Yunus Got Favourable Verdict from the Labour Court Bribing the Presiding Judge
The individual employees initiated proceedings to enforce their lawful claim of participation in the 5% of net profit of the GTC by filing as many as 107 BLA (IR) Cases before the 3rd Labor Court, Dhaka in the year 2017. GTC filed about a hundred Writ Petitions challenging the interim orders of the Labour Court, passed in those IR Cases.
Pending hearing of those Writ Petitions, the GTC terminated all the 99 employees who were in service at that relevant time by a single notice dated 25.10.2020. Challenging such illegal termination separate applications were filed by the individual employees praying for their reinstatement in their former posts with all back wages in the pending Writ Petitions which was ultimately allowed and the honorable High Court Division was pleased to direct the GTC to reinstate them with all back wages. However, they challenged such order before the Hon’ble Appellate Division (the highest court of the country), but the Hon’ble Appellate Division was pleased not to interfere into the order of the High Court Division. Hence GTC management realized that they would not be able to get their favourable verdict from any Divisions of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh. As such, they approached to a lobbyist firm namely “Dhaka Logistics Services & Solution (DLSS)” of Mr. Rafiqul Islam (Mobile No. +8801729253111) for getting favourable verdict influencing the concerned courts. GTC appointed the said lobbyist firm through their 104th Board Meeting held on 14.06.2021 with a post facto effect from 25.05.2021. The then Managing Director of the GTC Mr. Ashraful Hassan proposed in the said board meeting inter alia as-
“………বাংলাদেশে আইনি ভাবে লড়াই করে সব জায়গায় টেকা যায় না । সেক্ষেত্রে আমাদের দুটো জিনিস, একটা হল IR consultant বলে একটা consultant বাংলাদেশে কাজ করে। তারা internal relations এর কাজ করে । Stakeholders, law, judiciary, সরকারের influencial people, রাজনীতিবিদ, এসব মিলে তারা একটা পজিশন পেপার তৈরি করে…… ।
Dr. Yusus, the Chairman of the GTC approved the said proposal with outmost satisfaction. In approving the above proposal Dr. Yusus declared inter alia as-
“এ দুটো প্রস্তাব খুবই ভাল প্রস্তাব, এ দুটি প্রস্তাব আমি স্বেচ্ছায় encourage করছি...এটা আমরা অনুমোদন করলাম। আর দ্বিতীয় বিষয় হলো এ আইটেম নিয়ে যে আলোচনা হলো তা off the record, শুধূ decision গুলা থাকবে। minutes টা খুব সংক্ষেপে হবে।“
Being so appointed, DLSS prepared an assessment report with their blue print way forward with an estimated cost of 13.80 crores taka for resolving the issues by way of influencing the courts, other government officials and high ups in the government for which DLSS was paid in advance an amount of BDT. 5,00,000.00 as for their fees. The said Assessment report was sent to the then Managing Director Mr. Ashraful Hassan through email dated 22.06.2021 stating inter alia as-
“… However, please find attached the assessment and way forward including the tentative cost which can be negotiated upon the actual involvement of the level of influence and through whom with an objective to clean the whole issue in favour of GTC.”
In the said Assessment report, DLSS categorically stated under column “Findings” that GTC bribed Mr. Shahajahan Saju, the Chairman of 1st Labour Court, Dhaka to get verdict in their favour. It has been stated by the DLSS as their Findings- “GTC dependency on Mr. Shahjahan, the former Chairman, Labour Court who digested the whole piece of cake alone that GTC paid time to time.”
By way of influencing the Labour Court through bribing, GTC got an interim stay order on the functions of the Trade Union of the Grameen Telecom Employees although there are explicit provisions in the Bangladesh Labour Act, 2006 that unless and until the registration of a Trade Union is finally cancelled, its function can no way be stayed. That order of stay was outright illegal and product of bribe which was ultimately stayed by the Hon’ble High Court Division and the same was confirmed by the Hon’ble Appellate Division. Therefore, necessary punitive action can be taken against Dr. Yunus and his associates following necessary investigation for bribing the court and approving a proposal of DLSS before the Board of Grameen Telecom to bribe the judges and public officials as part of an assignment for DLSS on behalf of Grameen Telecom.
It is to be noted that under Bangladesh laws, bribing any official performing any public responsibility including judicial responsibility as well as appointing any entity (such as lobbyist firm) for influencing any public office (including judiciary) is a punishable offence.
Dr. Yunus Plotted to Deprive the Employees from Their Legal Entitlements Using 13.80 Crores of Taka
In the said Assessment report, the DLSS proposed a “Top Down Approach” in which they have basically incorporated a series of illegal activities and corrupt practices to influence the judiciary along with the incumbent Labour Minister, Law Minister, important officials of the government and political leaders of the country. In this regard, the DLSS in their proposal made a graphical presentation of the stakeholders mapping whereby it is seen that they have targeted the Hon’ble Ministers of the Ministry of Labour and Employment, Ministry of Law, Justice and Parliamentary Affairs and Ministry of Industry, and their respective secretaries and high-ups, political leaders of the ruling party to influence the judiciary to fulfill their objective of dismissing the labour court cases and cancellation of the registration of the Trade Union.
On the basis of such proposal, GTC hired the services of the DLSS to adopt the so called “Top Down Approach”. The followings were proposed in said Top Down Approach-
· “We will engage with Minister personally and through our liaison to brief and condition her Majesty Honorable Labour Minister.
· Will condition the Labour secretariat.
· Will condition Inspector General of Factories (IGF)
· Will Condition Labour Director
· Will Convince Labour Leaders in one to one session since they are our committee members in different forum
· Engage Ministry to device an exit package”
Dr. Yunus Committed Crime of Money Laundering under the Money Laundering Prevention Act, 2012 and Grameen Telecom (GTC) has been transferring its dividents Grameen Kallyan in violation of section 28 & 29 of the Companies Act, 1994
Grameen Telecom (GTC) is a company limited by guarantee and licensed under section 28 of the Companies Act, 1994. It has no share capital. Dr. Yunus took the license of the Company with the objective inter alia to promote development of tele-communication and ancillary services in the rural areas for reducing poverty in Bangladesh by extending loans and grants both in cash and kind to the poor. At the time of taking license, the members of the GTC declared that sharing of dividends is prohibited. Section 29 further restricted on sharing of dividends of a company licensed under section 28. The relevant provision of section 28 and 29 are as follows:
“28. (1) Where it is proved to the satisfaction of the Government that an association capable of being formed as a limited company has been or in about to be formed for promoting commerce, art, science, religion, charity, or any other useful object, and applies or intends to apply its profits, if any or other income in promoting its objects and to prohibit the payment of any dividend to its members the Government may, by licence with approval of one of its Secretaries, direct that the association be registered as a company with limited liability, without the addition of the word “Limited” to its name, and the association may be registered accordingly.”
“29. (1) In the case of company limited by guarantee and not having a share capital and registered after the commencement of this Act every provision in the memorandum or articles or in any resolution of the company purporting to give any person a right to participate in the divisible profits of the company otherwise than as a member shall be void.”
GTC earned thousands of crores taka each year as dividend from Grameen Phone Ltd against its 34.20% shares in the capital of Grameen Phone. Out of this dividend, GTC shares 42.65% to Grameen Kallyan on the cause that it took a loan facility of taka 53,25,62,941.00 at the time of acquiring share of Grameen Phone. Against such loan of taka only 53.25 crores, GTC has been sharing hundreds crores of dividend in each year. A statement of dividend sharing since 2003 to 2017 are as follows:
After 2017, the amount of dividend income from Grameen Phone has been increased substantially, and accordingly, the amount of dividend transferred to Grameen Kollyan after 2017 has increased. As such, till 2022 about 5000 (Five Thousand) Crores of taka has been illegally disbursed to the Grameen Kollayan as dividend against their loan of an amount of BDT. 53.25 crores only. The audit firm, in writing warned the management of GTC for such illegal transaction in 2017. The Audit Firm of GTC, categorically stated in a management letter in 2017 as follows:
“During the year under audit Grameen Telecom received a dividend of Taka 8,080,912,158 against their holding of 34.20% in the shares of Grameen Phone Limited. Out of total receipt of dividend of taka 8,080,912,158, taka 3,446,672,270 was distributed to Grameen Kalyan as dividend, although Grameen Kalyan does not have any holdings in the shares of Grameen Phone Limited…. Recommendation: We recommend that these types of treatments should be discontinued otherwise problem may arise in future.”
The entire approximate amount of BDT. 5000 crores have been transferred to Grameen Kollyan illegally and without any lawful authority. Even after receipt of such humongous amount of dividend, they have no visible undertakings or project for the welfare poor people. Besides Grameen Kollyan, GTC syphoning huge amount of money to the other entities of Dr. Yunus. As for example, GTC donated an amount of BDT. 1413.58 Crores of taka to Grameen Telecom Trust during the period of 31.12.2010 to 22.08.2013. The above mentioned illegally transferred huge amount of Money eventually misappropriated by Dr. Yunus and his board members in the name of social business. The regulatory and government authorities do not have any information about the final destination of the money transferred illegally. An extensive investigation is necessary under Money Laundering Prevention Act, 2012 to find out the final destination of the said illegally transferred money. There is a prima facie case that the entire amount or any part of the same was taking away from country through layering. This is a punishable offence under section 4 of the Money Laundering Prevention Act, 2012.
Dr. Yunus’s Commission of Crime under section 397 of the Companies Act, 1994
Dr. Yunus’s company GTC submits its annual returns to the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies And Firms (RJSC) with false statements that no dividend is distributed although thousands crores of dividends have been distributed to Grameen Kollyan over the years which has been explicitly shown in the previous part of this paper. This sort of false statements in the annual return is a punishable offence under section 397 of the Companies Act, 1994.
Section 397 of the Companies Act, 1994 provides penalty for false statement. It says: ‘Whoever in any return, report, certificate balance-sheet or other documents, required by or for the purposes of any of the provisions of this Act, willfully makes a statement false in any material particular, knowing it to be false, shall be punishable with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to five years, and shall also be liable to fine.’
It is to be noted that if it would have been disclosed that GTC has transferred its dividends to another entity, it would lose its status under section 28 of the Companies Act and their license under section 28 as a non profit company would have been cancelled by the Registrar of Joint Stock Companies And Firms (RJSC).
Dr. Yunus’s Clandestine Style of Evasion of Taxes of Millions of Dollars
Grameen Telecom in violation of the provisions of section 28 and 29 of the Companies Act 1994 distributes 42.6% of its Dividend income from Grameen Phone Limited (GP) to Grameen Kallyan (GK) although GK is not a shareholder of Grameen Phone Limited. In fact the entire Dividend income has to be booked as the income of the GTC and accordingly tax has to be paid at the applicable corporate rate for the relevant income year. But if we study their audited accounts, we will see they paid almost half of their dividend income from the GP to GK only upon deduction of advance income tax (AIT) at the rate of 10-20% while the applicable corporate tax rate was 37.5% to 35%.
The difference of this corporate rate and the dividend tax is surely an evasion of taxes as the GK is not at all entitled to the Dividend income of GP. If we sum up all the evaded taxes since the beginning, the amount of the evaded taxes shall be somewhere close to one thousand crore Taka only in the case of Grameen Telecom.