Embracing digitalization: how can anti-corruption agencies in ASEAN apply innovative tools in the fight against corruption?  

UNODC supports ASEAN jurisdictions to implement innovative tools such as mobile and online reporting platforms, open data standards and blockchain technology.

Posted on 23 November 2018.

@Markus Spiske on Unsplash


According to Google, Southeast-Asia's Internet user base has surged rapidly over the past two years, making the region the third largest market globally in terms of Internet users, with roughly 90% of which being smartphone users. Digitalization has transformed interactions within societies in innumerable ways, and pilot-tested projects around the world have been truly promising in engaging a wide, diverse and active audience against corruption, affecting the speed and scale of how access to information, data analysis or financial investigations can be managed. How can these tools be used by anti-corruption agencies successfully in the context of Southeast-Asia?

'Big data could revolutionize the anti-corruption work' explains Lola Easter, using data from Indonesian anti-corruption courts to promote transparency in the judiciary sector, Indonesia Corruption Watch

'Big data could revolutionize the anti-corruption work' explained Ms. Lola Easter, from the NGO Indonesia Corruption Watch. Ms. Easter was speaking at the regional workshop on applying innovative tools in the fight against corruption, at the margin of the Southeast-Asia Parties Against Corruption (SEA-PAC) event in Singapore, on 29 October 2018. This workshop was co-organized by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) of Singapore and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). Tech companies, civil society organisations and anti-corruption agencies from ASEAN together identified priority actions to be taken under the leadership of SEA-PAC members, to make effective use of innovative tools such as online platforms, mobile applications, open and big data, and blockchain technology.

In recent years, ASEAN countries have taken significant steps towards using e-governance, online platforms and mobile technology for transparency, public scrutiny and social benefits, recognized by ASEAN as a 'key aspect of bridging development gaps' (ASEAN e-Government Strategic Plan 2020). Some countries in Asia have developed effective e-governance systems, such as South-Korea (world's top three according to a survey conducted by the UN Data Centre), Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Thailand and the Philippines. At the CPIB-UNODC workshop, representatives from the anti-corruption agencies of Indonesia (KPK) and Malaysia (MACC) presented their respective complaints online management portals and mobile application for reporting corruption. These digital platforms are mobilizing a large number of citizens, providing an important source of information to detect corruption cases.

Having an increased number of corruption reports is positive overall for the fight against corruption, but there are concerns with regard to whistleblower's protection: 'a new regulation from September 2018 provides financial incentives up to $13,135 for whistleblowers and further legal protection for reporting persons in Indonesia, which is a major advancement, but the provisions on disclosure of identity remain unchanged and our reports must contain the reporter's identity', highlighted Mr. Cahya Hardianto Harefa, Director of the Public Complaint Directorate of the KPK in Indonesia. UNODC is working with governments in the region to implement effective whistle-blower protection systems and online complaints mechanisms. For example in December 2018, Lao PDR will engage with the civil society and the private sector with a view to improve existing mechanisms to report corruption in the country, with UNDOC support.

'A new regulation in September 2018 provides financial incentives up to $13,135 for whistleblowers and further legal protection for reporting persons in Indonesia, which is a major advancement', Mr. Cahya Hardianto Harefa, Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK), Indonesia

Another area in which ASEAN countries are still lagging behind is the recognition of the importance of government openness and the role of big and open data in fighting corruption. Ms. Lola Easter presented an innovative initiative in Indonesia, implemented by the NGO Indonesia Corruption Watch. The NGO developed an online integrated database of verdicts of corruption cases, generating data from Indonesia anti-corruption courts (https://antikorupsi.org).  Highlighting tendencies of sentencing per year and per court, this data analysis encourages transparency of the judiciary sector, which has been identified as a highly corrupt sector in the country. This type of initiatives requires an enabling environment, comprised of access to information laws, civil participation, beneficial ownership registries, financial and asset disclosure and publicized open data. These elements of government openness are analyzed in the Open Government Index 2015, in which Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines perform well in comparison with other ASEAN countries.

'Open data has the potential to improve government transparency and inform citizens, but there is a lack of confidence in the Mekong region that reduces its effectiveness', notes Ms. Pyrou Chung, Open Development Initiative

In fact, 'the reality in the Mekong region is that big data is not readily available nor adheres to open data standards'. Big data relies on large amounts of digital data, which can be accessed online. The Open Data Charter defines open data as 'digital data made available with the technical characteristics necessary for it to be freely used, reused, and redistributed by anyone, anytime, anywhere'.  Open data has the potential to improve government transparency and inform citizens, but there is a lack of confidence in the Mekong region that reduces its effectiveness' explained Ms. Pyrou Chung, from Open Development Initiative, a network of NGOs working to change this mindset. Some initiatives have been successfully demonstrating the value of big and open data to policy-makers in the Mekong region: for instance in Cambodia, the civil society is collecting data on registered companies investing or interested to invest in the Mekong countries and making it public. To this end, reviewing legal frameworks on access to information and promoting the access and use of information in open data formats were identified as key priority actions.

Finally, much more recently, anti-corruption practitioners are increasingly looking at blockchain technology and how it can support the fight against corruption. Mr. Chng Tze Wei, Head of the Computer Forensics Branch, CPIB Singapore, explained how crypto-currencies are being used in financial investigations: in case criminals use bitcoins for sophisticated crimes, law enforcement officers also need to have the capacities to detect it.

'The ease of audit and accountability for each change in records makes the blockchain technology a key solution in the fight against corruption', Mr. Roberto Capodieci, Blockchain Zoo, tech-company based in Indonesia

Looking forward, 'in the future, blockchain technology could lead to substantial improvements in transparency, speed and functionality. The ease of audit and accountability for each change in records makes the blockchain technology a key solution in the fight against corruption', explained Mr. Roberto Capodieci, CEO of Blockchain Zoo, a tech-company based in Indonesia. Blockchain technology can be used for citizens to access secured information, which can't be erased, and it can avoid non-transparent investigation processes. The type of information that can be digitalized using blockchain could include public procurement processes, land registries, registered companies, electronic assets declaration, supply chains traceability, elections processes, criminal justice processes, evidence for investigation, donations, or aid. For instance, concrete applications in the tuna industry have been piloted in Indonesia, using blockchain technology to trace the supply chains, thereby fighting corruption and human traffic
king. The use of blockchain technology by anti-corruption agencies in the region was also identified as a potential turning point to open up various applications where digitalized information is used with full transparency.  

UNODC supports innovative tools such as online platforms, mobile technology, open data and blockchain technology in the fight against corruption in ASEAN countries, with a view to support the implementation of the UN Convention Against Corruption (UNCAC), which all ASEAN members have ratified. In this context, among other initiatives, UNODC will partner with the Anti-Corruption Organization of Thailand, the Khon Thai Foundation and SIAM lab at Chulalongkorn University for the organisation of Hackathons to develop civic technologies, using open data to promote transparency and accountability at national level in Thailand.