February 2014 Article
Ending government corruption with technology
It is an epidemic in many countries. In most emerging countries it’s what keeps them from being “emerged”. I am referring to government corruption - government officials using taxpayer-generated money and privileged government positions for their own personal gain. It seems to be a problem without a solution because the very people who are causing the problem are the ones responsible to fix it. In Latin America, where I focus much of my life and business, the citizens seem to be resolved that things will not change and that there is little hope of ever having a clean government. This hopelessness is a major cause of the protests and demonstrations that have intensified throughout several regions of the world over the last few years. However, a remedy to cure the ills of government corruption may have shown up just in time. Help could be on the way with today’s significant and ongoing advancements in technology.
I know that information technology has taken a lot of heat and criticism lately, especially as it pertains to privacy and security with examples such as the NSA spying scandal and the security breaches at major American retail outlets like Target and Neiman Marcus. I have written about this problem in the past. Here, I would like to emphasis the positive aspects of technology and provide examples of how technology can be a powerful force for good. There are solutions that technology can provide to help eliminate government corruption.
Government corruption thrives in the “dark”. It flourishes where complex, bureaucratic, and obscure processes are in place that shroud actions and decisions from the view of the general public. Tracing and tracking technology can shine a light on the government process, creating an optimized, open and reviewable environment. This technology provides a transparent and accountable handling of all government processes and transactions, including the handling of documents, bidding materials, procurement packages, permits, licenses, and regulatory approval documents. Tracing technology can track the individuals who have possession of these documents until that possession is officially transferred. Additionally, products and materials can be tracked with chips, QR codes, and bar code technologies, which help prevent these items from getting ”lost”.
There have been significant advancements made in authorization and authentication “sign in” technology, creating a foolproof gateway system that keeps unauthorized individuals out and that clearly and accurately identifies the last person to use any document or property. New developments in data storage, management and analytics can allow government spending to be tracked from authorization to allocation and appropriations, while including automated auditing, review, and measurement of results. Electronic and mobile payment technology systems and apps for smart phones and other mobile devices eliminate all need for cash or credit card transactions, making financial transactions more secure and entirely traceable.
The most visible example of technology’s potential to win the struggle against government corruption is the use of social media for mass communication and mobilization of individuals in protest of government abuse. Social media is a powerful tool and, when handled correctly, allows citizens to share information that may have been, in the past, censored or manipulated by the traditional communication outlets. Modern audio-visual technology allows real time vigilance and sharing of live streaming video to a host of users. These new technologies can also assist honest government employees who wish to expose government corruption but are fearful of speaking out alone or suffering repercussions. Finally, we have the example of the website ipaidabribe.com a site dedicated to exposing government officials who demand money from citizens for government services. This site began in India and has quickly spread throughout several other countries.
Modern technologies can create a new environment for government management and operations. They can help build an environment where all government actions are executed with transparency and efficiency. When government business is conducted in the light, there is little room for abuse and personal enrichment at the citizen’s expense. When the conditions no longer exist where corrupt officials can abuse the system for personal gain, there will be no reason for them to stay, leaving room for honest government officials to move in and take their place.