Social Entrepreneur Yunus in battle for control of Grameen Phone
Telenor to list BD phone unit on Dhaka exchange
DHAKA: Norway’s Telenor said on Tuesday it plans to list its GrameenPhone subsidiary on the stock exchange in Bangladesh after rejecting a claim by Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus for control of the telecom firm.
Telenor owns 62 per cent of GrameenPhone, Bangladesh’s leading mobile phone company with more than 12 million subscribers. It is also the largest private enterprise in Bangladesh.
Grameen Telecom, a unit of the Yunus-founded Grameen Bank, holds the remaining 38 per cent shares and offered last week to buy another 13 per cent for 427 million dollars to get a majority stake, Grameen Telecom chief executive Ashraful Hasan said.
It says that was the original proposal under a 1996 agreement by the Norwegian group to cede control of Grameen Phone within six years.
But Telenor’s chief executive said in a statement that the firm would rather list an unspecified percentage of the firm on the Dhaka Stock Exchange and rejected the agreement as a statement of intent and not binding.
“A public listing would bring more Bangladeshi ownership into GrameenPhone,” Telenor President and Chief Executive Officer Jon Fredrik Baksaas said in a statement.
“We think it is important that the people of Bangladesh and all customers of GrameenPhone can become owners of this successful company,” he said.
Yunus used his Nobel Peace Prize lecture last October to plead for Telenor to relinquish control so he could make GrameenPhone “a social business by giving majority ownership to the poor women of Grameen Bank.”
“Someday GrameenPhone will become another example of a big enterprise owned by the poor,” he said to loud applause from the audience, which included Baksaas.
Bangladesh is one of the world’s poorest countries with nearly half of its 144 million population surviving on less than a dollar day.
But its booming mobile phone industry has emerged as a key driver of the cash-strapped nation’s economy, creating nearly 240,000 jobs and adding 650 million dollars annually to gross domestic product, a study said last May.