Atiur's legacy: mostly brilliant

Atiur Rahman, who resigned as the Bangladesh Bank governor yesterday over the mishandling of the heist episode, championed financial inclusion, digitalisation of banking system, and socially and environmentally responsible financing in his nearly seven-year tenure.

The 10th governor of the BB has proved that it is not stress that made him fall. It is how he responded to the most stressful event of the central bank's history that proved to be his downfall.

The heist of $101 million from the BB account at the New York Fed has not only rattled Bangladesh and its banking industry but also the regulators in other countries including the Philippines and the US.

His secrecy, particularly to the higher-ups of the government, over the hacking for a month, made the authorities very angry.

Questions were raised over his decision to travel to New Delhi to attend an event of the International Monetary Fund at a time when mysteries around the cyber theft were unfolding.   

Many people, including some central bankers, believed that the trip could have been avoided.

So, his response to the most stressful happening in the country's history, made him fall from the summit he achieved by strength of his qualities.

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A renowned economist, banker and professor, Rahman took the helm of the central bank for four years on May 1, 2009. His tenure was extended for three years and three months up to August 2 this year.

Under his leadership, the BB took numerous measures to promote the flow of institutional credit to low-income households.

One of the important financial inclusion initiatives is the introduction of no-frills bank accounts for unbanked farmers.

He introduced new technology into the banking sector, digitised the payments system, encouraged green banking and most importantly brought unbanked people under formal banking services.

Farmers and others can now open bank accounts with Tk 10, as a result of which millions have been inducted into formal banking.

He spearheaded initiatives to ingrain socially and environmentally responsible financing ethos, with multi-pronged facilitation and policy support for inclusive, green financing.

The approach has contributed notably to upholding domestic demand-led growth and stability.

Rahman actively promoted green financing and pushed loans for agriculture and small and medium enterprises.

His passion for small and medium enterprises earned him the nickname 'SME Governor'.

The governor also stood by students by asking banks not to charge them when applying for a job, and has made the recruitment process at the BB more transparent than ever before. 

He was though not beyond reproach. He failed to establish discipline in the banking sector, which is plagued by bad loans, poor governance, and huge management expenditure.

He has also failed to punish the main culprits of the large-scale scams in state-owned banks BASIC and Sonali.

Rahman was also criticised for making frequent foreign visits.

But in an interview with the Financial Times in February last year, the 10th governor said: “None of the nine central bank governors before me ever went to the rural areas.”

Rahman, the former chairman of Janata Bank and director of Sonali Bank, said he had made 101 visits to rural areas over the past four years, mostly on the weekends.

“You have to get out and visit people, go into their houses, to see what programmes are needed. Central bankers in the advanced economies are not going out to see their economies on the ground.”

In January last year, the Banker, a UK-based magazine owned by the Financial Times Group, announced him the best central bank governor in the Asia Pacific region.

His work exemplifies how central banks can play essential roles in providing capital for environmentally- and socially-aware development without compromising on growth or macroeconomic stability, the magazine said at the time.

His inclusive, green financing initiatives have earned him a few other recent accolades and awards, like the Indira Gandhi Gold Plaque from India, Gusi International Peace Prize from the Philippines and membership of an elite small global United Nations Environment Programme advisory panel on designing a sustainable global financial system.

The Gusi Peace Prize foundation termed Rahman as the Poor Man's Economist in the award citation.

Rahman won an award titled 'Regulator with Human Face' from the University of Dhaka in recognition of his outstanding contribution to bringing un-banked people to the banking sector.

He was awarded the Commonwealth scholarship and went to the School of Oriental and African Studies in the UK to pursue his MA and PhD in economics.

A former general secretary of Bangladesh Economic Association, he directed a number of socio-cultural organisations including Bishwa Sahitya Kendra and Monajatuddin Smriti Sangsad.

Last year, he became the first Bangladeshi to become the chairman of the Asian Clearing Union, a group of nine central banks who signed up to a joint payment system. 

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