Quick thoughts on ICTs and Corruption

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Got a request from DGG Directorate to furnish last minute inputs on the above for an anti-corruption meeting in Panama this week. This is what I sent. Needs editing and further thought.

Potential of new ICT and networking technologies (latter are important)

  • Streamline cumbersome government processes
  • Increase the efficiency of the public sector
  • Create new capacities for civil servants
  • Foster transparency of public execution
  • Not a panacea but not just a tool either. ICTs can help transform the public sector if strategically deploy, addressing specif bottleneck or issues.

ICTs and anti-corruption

  • Evidence does suggest that ICTs and help reduce AC by changing the way government works
  • Best examples so far are related to public procurement which is one of the main areas with billions of dollars where corruption is rampant in developing countries
  • Enter public e-procurement which
  • Makes the overall procurement process open to the public
  • Allows bidders and officials to closely track bidding processes
  • Increases the transparency of biding selection processes
  • increases the barrier of entry for corrupt officials who now have no access to procurement documents and information
  • Reduces transaction costs for both internal public administrations and bidders

Example:

  •   In Jordan, UNDP helped the government to launch an e-procurement platform for all the public sector contracting
  • But first UNDP undertook a detailed business process analysis and change management process to ensure ICTs could be effectively plugged in the former and allow civil servants to be part of the process for the latter
  • The business process mapping showed that over 60 steps and processed were required to complete one single request for procurement. Also, at least 5 committees had to meet to approve the proposals.
  • The business process was streamlined to less than 2o steps, and only one committee was required to approve proposals
  • All proposals were required to be submitted via a public web site
  • Meeting of the procurement committee is publicly webcast and stored for public overview when required.
  • e-procurement not only reduces corruption by also promotes better competition among bidders thus also lowering the cost for the public sector when procuring private goods and services
  • Other examples include Brazil, India, and Chile where e-procurement has brought savings of close to 400 million USD in the last 8 to 10 years.

 

Risks

  •  Nevertheless, ICTs are not the vaccine against AC.
  • While new ICTs prevent unskilled public servants to abuse their positions, staff with sophisticated ICT skills that have access to the systems can do so change programmes for their own benefit or pass information to bidders about ongoing processes. There is the classic example of the financial hacker who was able to change the bank’s systems and take one cent per month out of every single bank account in a bank that had over 10 million accounts. The person was caught because of his unexplained luxurious lifestyle, etc.
  •  Here the critical point if the governance of the ICTs. Who is in charge and to whom are they accountable to? Who has access to the systems?
  • So while ICTs do reduce corruption by increasing skills requirements and making corruption less open to regular employees, they introduce more sophisticated corruption methods that can be much larger in scope and go undetected for some time.

Cheers, Raúl

 

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