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Using the right to information for investigative journalism in Bangladesh

Transparency Int'l

Md. Obaidur Rahman, a local journalist from Dinajpur, Bangladesh, was following up on an important tip.

One of his sources had told him about a counterfeiting scheme which had been making fake stamps for validating legal documents and for tax purposes. This resulted in fewer genuine stamps being purchased, at the cost of lost revenue for the government. Many citizens were unknowingly buying fake stamps. This meant they could later have to pay the tax again and that their agreements and property transfers were not legally binding.

Rahman began quietly following the story. The evidence he gathered was pointing toward a scandal that could help to stop money being lost to corruption.

To support his story, Rahman asked the Dinajpur local administration for information. In Bangladesh, citizens have the right to request information directly from government offices. Unless the information is sensitive and falls under national security interests, the offices have to provide it.

Rahman learned about right to information requests at an information fair run by the Committee of Concerned Citizens of Dinajpur, which motivates citizens to become involved with anti-corruption activities. Two Youth Engagement and Support (YES) volunteers at the fair showed him the process of submitting an application for information.

But when he requested information to check whether the fake stamps’ serial numbers were valid, his request was denied.

Undeterred, and with help and encouragement from the Committee of Concerned Citizens, Rahman appealed to the head of the local government.

Fortunately, his request was granted the second time around. The information revealed that a large number of stamps were fake and the fraudulent vendors had been costing the government tens of millions of Bangladeshi taka (hundreds of thousands of US dollars) for years.

As a result, the head of the local government revoked the licences of the four stamp vendors and initiated control measures, such as issuing limited numbers of stamps for set time periods and setting up a strict monitoring system. The fraud had finally been stopped and an additional 2.5 million taka (US$31,250) was collected from Dinjapur stamp vendors within the following two months.

Rahman’s story ran in the local newspaper and raised awareness of the importance of buying official stamps from official vendors. It also highlighted citizens’ right to information and how this can help stop corruption.

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 Bangladesh for writing and sharing this story.

The Committee of Concerned Citizens (CCC) of Dinajpur is part of a larger network of 45 citizen groups in local communities that serve as a citizens’ platform against corruption. Created by Transparency International Bangladesh, groups work to mobilise local citizens against corruption by using their right to information as a tool to gather information from government offices.

Transparency International Bangladesh also works with 60 Youth Engagement and Support (YES) groups to engage local citizens and grassroots journalists like Rahman and help them to access information, challenge corruption and promote integrity.

For any press inquiries please contact press@transparency.org