India holds the dubious distinction of ranking 85th among 175 nations surveyed for corruption. The socio-economic price of corruption is very high. So, as India takes its place on the world economic stage, corruption needs to be tackled seriously.
On the one hand, the attitude of accepting bribery needs to be broken. On the other hand, our governance, commerce, and service delivery mechanisms need to be made transparent and foolproof to avoid any leakages. With its automated processes and information visibility and access, technology can play a big role in discouraging corruption.
Effective e-governance (utilizing information technology to deliver government services to citizens) is seen as a panacea to curb corruption. Several of the interventions listed below are manifestations of e-governance. Each is mentioned separately to highlight the kind of corruption it can curb. In addition, we have listed other technology interventions that can help prevent graft.
1. Digitization of service deliveries like issuing a passport, driving license, gas connection, etc.
In service deliveries like issuing or re-issuing a passport, driving license, gas connection, birth certificate, and others, digitizing processes and systems will improve the exchange between government, service providers, and citizens availing the service. Online service delivery mechanisms do away with unnecessary job positions and eliminate power-wielding touts and agents, thus eliminating bribery opportunities. Success cases like the online appointment systems for U.S. visas, the change we are seeing in passport systems, the Bhoomi online management, and delivery of land records in Karnataka need to be replicated across other services with rigor.
2. Preventing corruption in social security entitlements through data
Leakages in entitlements like old age pension, unemployment doles, benefits like food coupons, healthcare, and more happen because of the lack or inaccessibility of social sector data. In this case, corruption takes place in two ways – when public sector officials keep a cut for giving what is rightfully due, and where citizens bribe officials or work around the system to avail more than what is due. (For example, see the case of Uttar Pradesh. The Janani Suraksha Yojna scam unraveled when bank officials reported that a woman had collected the state government’s pregnancy dole five times in ten months!)
The Indian Government’s Unique Identification Number initiative of gathering biometric and demographic data of all Indian residents and linking it with social benefits like public distribution system entitlements is a good example to plug such leakages.
In a recent project, we deployed our data platform to map 264 villages across Vijayawada. The project is part of a micro-planning initiative to tag the existing state and central schemes to the eligible groups of people, thus reducing government spending on public welfare schemes.
The map below shows villages without toilets:
Read more about it here.
3. Beating corruption by going human-free
Reducing human contact, especially discretionary power, can drastically bring down petty corruption. Activities like renewals of licenses (for shops, establishments and vehicles) is a major source for bribery, with public officials pocketing money every time a license is up for renewal. Registering citizens at service portals that provide auto-prompts during renewal periods, using digital formats for submission of forms and renewal documents, and online tracking of applications can curb petty corrupt practices.
Similarly, civic enforcement activities like challaning traffic offenders can be successfully dealt with by camera-aided traffic signals and computerized check points. E-challans can be generated for offenses along with proof (i.e. a picture) of the offending vehicle or other data (such as weight details of an overloaded vehicle). This would help to eliminate discretionary-power-aided bribery.
Human interference in public service payments like invoicing for electricity and water usage are another source of day-to-day corruption, where middle-men often tamper with readings and pocket a charge to revise bills. Computer-aided meter reading devices, attached to tamper-free meters, can be used to transmit readings electronically to the billing system in the company’s headquarters, thus cutting out the human element and opportunity for corruption.
4. Currency-free banking and cashless transactions
While effective e-governance can beat retail corruption, large scale corruption such as black money and laundering across entities and nations can be checked through premise-less, currency-less, futuristic banking systems. Corrupt transactions are typically done through cash to make them untraceable. Capping large cash transactions in banking (such as deposits, withdrawals, and transfers) and encouraging digital money transactions will make monitoring easier and evasion more difficult.
Similarly, moving towards mobile-based money transfer systems will also curb petty corruption where telecom and data penetration is better than banking. The success story of M-Pesa/M-Paisa in African countries and Afghanistan is widely known. It not only made monetary transfers easier and more economical but also fought corruption. When Afghan police force started receiving salaries through M-Pesa, they thought they had got a raise, only to realize that a part of their cash wage payments had previously been pocketed by corrupt officials.
5. Preventing corruption in state procurements and recruitments
E–auctions and e–procurement platforms can help in moving towards cleaner procurement systems by controlling kickbacks for government departments. With their fair bidding systems and transparent structures, these systems do away with the collusion and graft that are characteristic of public procurement. Chile’s e-commerce public procurement system ChileCompra has gained immense popularity around the world by bringing transparency in public spending.
Similarly, internet and data-aided applications can provide much needed transparency in the ever-growing recruitment scams. Indian states like Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka have shown the lead in curbing corruption in teacher recruitments and transfers in government schools by publishing teacher data online. Surplus teachers, posts, vacancies, and shortages are published for everyone to see, and the tool automatically makes matches according to set criteria (besides making applicant credentials available for scrutiny).
6. Crowdsourcing corruption information
Websites that crowdsource citizen reports of retail corruption act as behavioral change agents by breaking the acceptance of bribery as a way of life. Corruption-reporting websites like IPaidABribe may not have any teeth or may risk getting embroiled in litigation, but they work well as a deterrent through awareness generation and naming-and-shaming features.