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ICT as a tool for citizen participation in anti-corruption efforts


Information and communications technology (ICT) has become a very useful tool for fighting corruption. Of course, ICT-based social media has added a new dimension to the fight against corruption as information can find its way around the world in a matter of minutes and viral pictures or videos taken by citizen journalists can be used as evidence of corruption or other ills. In addition, these videos and images may be a catalyst for governmental action and can be used by the international community to apply pressure on States. The Internet gives a global dimension to the work of local CSOs and also enables collaborative investigative journalism. Some of the ways in which ICT is useful in the fight against corruption, and in particular in enhancing citizen participation in anti-corruption efforts, are:

Sharing information: Technology can be used to provide a platform for sharing information on cases of corruption, which can raise awareness of these cases and may act as a deterrent. For instance, platforms such as I Paid a Bribe in India provide crowdsourced information on demand bribery in different contexts. Anecdotal evidence suggests that those demanding bribes in areas where these platforms are used become more reluctant for fear of being identified on these platforms (Kannaiah, 2016).

Automation and digitization of government processes and services, including blockchain-enabled platforms: Technology has been used to automate government processes and reduce the face time public officials in certain positions have with the public. Automation may limit the discretion of public officials, increase transparency and make it more difficult for corrupt transactions to be effected. For instance, Adam Smith International undertook a project between 2002 and 2016, where it modernized the tax administration system in Afghanistan, and reduced corruption, while dramatically increasing tax revenue collection (ASI, 2016). In addition, as this post explains, automation and digitization may provide a verifiable audit trail that makes it harder to hide corrupt transactions. This is one of the benefits that the blockchain technology is expected to provide. This article explains in detail how blockchain works. The technology became popular because of its ability to transfer data in a safe, tamper-proof and transparent manner. The data is stored in many devices rather than on one centralized server, which in combination with heavy-duty encryption, makes the system impossible to be hacked. On the other hand, this encryption does not allow the changing or deletion of information once it enters the system. Moreover, the blockchain's open source code makes the information publicly available and easy to trace at any time. In particular, the provision of government services on a blockchain-enabled platform could prevent fraud. The automation and digitization of government services ultimately facilitates access to information, which makes it easier for citizens to understand and engage with relevant processes - thus enhancing their ability to monitor the transactions and detect any irregularities.

Big data analytics: ICT enables citizens and civil society actors to utilize big data in a way that can assist in targeted change and reforms and in the understanding of trends and patterns relevant to anti-corruption enforcement. For instance, a project of universities in the United Kingdom and the African Mathematical Institute analysed large data sets of public procurement contracts financed by development banks in Tanzania over a seven-year period and found interesting patterns and red flags that had not been picked up by the development banks in the procurement process (see this 2017 blog post by David-Barrett). Data sets like financial disclosure, beneficial ownership, company data, financial intelligence data, tax authority data and procurement data could be analysed to provide patterns and evidence of procurement fraud or other acts of corruption.

Next: Government obligations to ensure citizen participation in anti-corruption efforts
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