True stories

Birth rights

Childbirth can be a dangerous prospect in much of Nepal’s remote mountainous regions. Following custom, most women give birth at home, without medical equipment or supervision. When there are complications, treatment is administered by a local birth attendant with little if any formal training. As a result, as many as six Nepalese women die giving birth every day. Many of them are teenagers.

Looking to improve the situation, the government started a new incentive programme that offers small cash allowances to women who gave birth in hospital. It’s the kind of initiative that is desperately needed, and yet in one district local officials failed to promote it among their constituents. Instead, they created lists of fake mothers, and pocketed the money themselves.

When a whistleblower rang our centre to report the situation, we helped him break the story to the media. Making national headlines, the case helped bring the plight of rural women into the public sphere. Exposed, the officials admitted their wrongdoing, and returned the money to the state coffers to be redistributed where it’s needed most – among expectant mothers. We’re keeping watch to make sure it stays that way.

 

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Image: Creative Commons, Flickr / World Bank Photo Collection

 

Clean energy

An estimated US$800 million of public funds are lost each year due to tax evasion in Palestine. After reading one of our reports on the topic, Ali* was inspired to take up a case against an electricity company serving his city. The company was registered as a cooperative rather than a profitable business and so avoided paying tax – meaning much-needed public funds for health, education and other essential services were being lost.

Ali came to our anti-corruption legal advice centre for support and provided evidence to back up his claims. Recognising that such practices are a serious problem across Gaza and the West Bank, we addressed a letter to the Ministry of Finance calling for an urgent investigation. Two weeks later the ministry responded. The allegations had been true and the ministry would take action to ensure the company paid back the tax-related money.

More than US$64,000 of public money has been reclaimed as a result. Even more will be saved as the company pays the correct tax in future years and as the ministry cracks down on other companies falsely registered as cooperatives.

For his part, Ali now wants to be more involved in our activities in Palestine and to show others that individuals like him can, and do, make a difference.

 

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* Names have been changed. Image: Creative Commons, Flickr / .ET.

Health problem

While other children were learning to read and playing outside, six year old Ayan* was left behind. Blind in one eye, and visually impaired in the other, she urgently needed an operation to correct her vision. Yet when her mother took her to the hospital, the answer was always the same: pay US$1,200 or no treatment. Unable to afford the illegal fees, her mother had repeatedly contacted the Ministry of Health for assistance, but they had never responded.

“It’s a common problem in Azerbaijan”, says Kanan from our centre, “institutions are often reluctant to help people who don’t have money or powerful connections.”

Ayan’s mother heard about our centre from a neighbour who had attended an outreach event. She contacted us asking for help.

Working with her to write another letter to the ministry, we also submitted an application on her behalf. Seeing she was not alone, the ministry started to act. Officials contacted the family, saying they would send Ayan to hospital to operate on her blind eye. A year later, she underwent her second operation, successfully treating both eyes. Today, she can see without any difficulty.

“We want to make sure that all citizens – regardless of their position – get the treatment they deserve,” says Kanan. “We’re campaigning for better health funding to reduce the temptation to request bribes, and continuing our outreach events to help citizens understand and uphold their rights.”

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* Names have been changed. Image: istockphoto.com / ognianm

Police crackdown

Fifty-year old Carmela* was sleeping at home when she was woken by banging and shouting from the apartment above, where her son lives. Rushing upstairs, she says she found the 27-year-old mechanic being beaten by police officers. Ignoring her cries, the officers dragged him from the apartment and took him to their local headquarters, where they demanded payment for his release.

Carmela’s problem is not new in her community, a makeshift settlement in Venezuela where local people claim to suffer constant harassment from certain police officers who demand bribes in return for leaving them in peace. Fearing retaliation, people find a way to pay the officers, who reportedly ask for as much as several thousand US dollars. But for Carmela, a housekeeper with four children, one suffering from cancer, this was impossible.

Acting on Carmela’s behalf, we contacted senior government and police officials, calling on them to take action. As a result, when she went to the local police headquarters to pay the bribe, the state authorities were watching. As soon the money changed hands, they moved in and arrested the officers involved. Her son was released without payment. The police officers were detained and now await trial, while a full investigation is underway.

 

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* Names have been changed. Image: istockphoto.com / tirc83