Shyam* lives in Biratnagar, a city in the east of Nepal, about 370 kilometres from Kathmandu. He travels often, using the domestic airport where he usually pays five Nepalese rupees (NPR) (approximately 4 US cents) for bike parking. One day, like any other, he went to the airport to pick up a relative and parked his bike.
When Shyam returned to collect his bike and pay the fee, an official told him that the fee had been raised to NPR10. Shyam asked why: the fee had never changed, and it was the middle of the fiscal year. He demanded proof that prices had been officially increased, and was given a receipt on which two entries of NPR5 were listed.
Shyam paid the fee – but he was not convinced. Fortunately, he was in contact with Transparency International Nepal, which suggested that Shyam file a right to information application with the Biratnagar Civil Aviation Office. Shyam and his friend, Gopal*, submitted a joint application that included a request for the official airport fees for all vehicles, details on the parking lot contractor, and information on the running of the parking area.
Transparency International Nepal immediately followed up on the application, making sure to inform airport authorities of the full details of the Right to Information Act and of Shyam’s case. After initial reluctance to process the application, airport officials investigated the issue. They found that the parking contractor had no legal right to inflate parking prices, as in Shyam’s case. Eventually, the money was returned to Shyam, along with the airport’s promise that normal prices would be enforced.
It is not only the right of citizens to demand information, but more the duty of public officials to proactively give information.
Shyam’s case may seem like an isolated incident. However, Biratnagar airport experiences relatively high traffic with approximately 40 flights per day, 50 passengers per flight, and 400 airport staff. This means that corrupt parking staff enforcing the artificial price hike could make as much as NPR7,500 (approximately US$65) per day – and that’s if only 60 to 65 per cent of staff and passengers use the facility. Over the years, the scheme might have cost citizens millions of rupees.
Thanks to the efforts of Shyam and Transparency International Nepal, the contractor was forced to charge the original price.
Shyam and Gopal’s story shows how powerful access to information – and awareness of people’s rights – can be. With the help of Transparency International Nepal and the Right to Information Act, they were able to stand up for their right and prevent corruption.
*Names have been changed
This blog post is an extract from Transparency International’s publication, Real Lives, Real Stories: The Power Of Information In Asia Pacific. It contains stories of citizens from ten countries across the Asia Pacific region who have used their right to information to demand accountability from their governments. Read the other stories.
We would like to thank Transparency International Nepal for writing and sharing this story.