Fighting Corruption Using ICT
By Kwami Ahiabenu, II
Corruption is here to stay. The high cost of corruption is disproportionately borne by the poorest in our society especially as it impedes their access to essential public services. It will be wishful thinking to say that corruption can be eradicated overnight, and the reasons for this are many. However, it is within our collective power to reduce it drastically.
For the purpose of this article, we simply define corruption as the misuse of public power and resources by both elected and unelected public officials for private gain.
Ghana is now considered a so-called lower middle income country and it has been suggested the country can only make further growth and progress if it can clean up corruption in the system by building stronger institutions and undertaking requisite reforms within the framework of good governance.
ICTs Can Help Reduce Corruption
Over the last decade, various tools, strategies and methods have been deployed in the fight against corruption. The fight has been on all levels using different interventions by government and other actors. In our present age, given the ubiquitous role of new digital technologies in our society, ICTs are now an important tool to fight corruption.
ICTs can help by reducing human interface in public service delivery, making data available in the public sphere thereby improving transparency and stimulate public support for campaigns against corruption especially using social media and mobile phones.
Corruption like any other economic transaction has two sides – a demand side; public officials who demand bribes before they provide a service, offer a government contract, issue a license etc, and a supply side; usually businesses or citizens who want these services or favors. In some situations, bribery is so entrenched in Ghana that one cannot get public service without paying bribes. The alternative is to forgo the service, which in most cases is crucial for an individual or business success.
Over time citizens have come to consider payment of bribes a norm. Using new digital technologies, citizens can be better informed about the high cost of bribery to the society, thereby contributing to change of attitudes over time.
ICTs can help in fighting corruption and stemming it from the demand side or the supply side. On the supply side, ICTs can empower citizens and communities to fight corruption through facilitation of information sharing and social mobilization. Most often, a lack of information about basic costs of public services delivery means public officials can get away with extortion or bribe taking. Using online platforms such as , mobile apps, social media or SMS citizens can be armed with information on how much to pay for different services will invariably empower them to demand for services without having to pay bribes.
For example, the WhatsApp messaging service, which is now very popular in Ghana, can be used to distribute a simple chart detailing fees payable at Driver Vehicle License Authority (DVLA) and service level standards indicating the steps of acquiring a driving license within a stipulated time.
This will enable a citizen to insist on paying the right fee if confronted with an official who is demanding a bribe. Also digital platforms can be made available for citizens to report incidents of corruption anonymously, for example, via a website form, mobile APP or send an SMS. This report is either directly sent to designated complaints unit or channeled via a civil society group who serves as intermediaries to ensure corrective action is taken.
Civil society organizations are at the forefront in the fight against corruption. ICT can provide tools, methods and services which they can use in educating citizens on corruptions, their rights to demand better services delivery without paying bribes and undertaking evidence-based advocacy in their fight against corruption.
On the demand side, the fundamental requirement is to make corruption expensive for both elected and unelected officials. One key instrument in the fight against corruption is detection. With a robust detection mechanism, one cannot only name and shame officials engaged in the act of corruption but also ensure that these officials are punished. ICT can facilitate the collection of digital footprints and complete service audit trail, which can keep public officials on their toes, since they know the possibilities of detection of corrupt practices are high. For example, the installation of web cameras at point-of-service delivery, will mean public officials will risk getting exposed if they overtly ask for bribes since they are being monitored in real time.
ICTs can also improve service delivery systems by making them user-friendly devoid of any complexity to ensure citizens can access these public services in a timely manner without having to pay a bribe. Using new digital technologies, service delivery can be set up in such a way that citizens can walk into one office, speak to one official to process and make payments instead of visiting 4-5 offices manned by army of officials which invariably increased the tendency of bribery.
More importantly, leadership of public offices should implement effective systems, which ensures that when citizens make use of ICT tools to report corruption cases, the culprits are punished severely. Without this system citizens will not be motivated to report such crimes.
One key challenge in the fight against corruption is resistance among some government officials when it comes to ensuring these tools work seamlessly. Also some governments are making efforts to censor or control ICTs thereby giving them an option to frustrate its usage in the fight against corruption.
Another key challenge is access to cheap and reliable information and communication tools. What can be more frustrating than trying to report an act of corruption using mobile phones in a situation where phone signal reception is very poor or non-existent? The full potential of using ICTs to fight corruption can also not be realized if political, social and economic environments are hostile towards its application.
Therefore, it is in the long-term interest of business and civil society actors to advocate for the enactment of robust anti-corruption legislation, and ensure that anti-corruption laws are strictly implemented and compliance is enforced.
In conclusion, ICTs based solutions are not intended to replace the system of anti-corruption laws and its enforcement but to enhance society ability to fight corruption.
- Kwami Ahiabenu, II is the Executive Director of Penplusbytes.org – you can follow him on twitter at www.twitter.com/kwamigh WhatsApp: 0241995737
Credit: Graphic Online