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Revisiting the role of ICT to combat corruption!

“Bringing together communities that traditionally did not collaborate to fight corruption – activists, IT experts and musicians – hit the nerve of a young generation that wants to engage to define their countries future” – Boris Weber
The internet, cell phones and associated technologies are deeply affecting social, economic and political institutions worldwide, primarily in new and emerging democracies. Governments all over the world have started resorting to the newly originate information and communication technology (ICT) to establish a citizen-centric, more transparent and more accountable government mechanism. Existing ICT infrastructures together with government’s willingness to implement e-government have already brought success in e-government initiatives across the industrialized world. As a least developed but emerging economy, Pakistan has been struggling to improve its government structure. Spoiled by corruption, political division, inefficient bureaucratic practices, it has been a difficult task for the government to put the country on the right development path. However, the country has been endeavoring to implement e-government in recent years to advance its current administrative practices and to establish better relationship and transparency between government and its various stakeholders.
The most cited source for corruption discussions, Transparency International (TI), defines corruption as the abuse of entrusted power by political leaders or bureaucracy for personal gain or specific group interest. Most other international organizations, such as the UN and the World Bank, use either that definition or very similar ones. ICT has been acknowledged as a feasible tool for diminishing corruption by enhancing transparency and accountability of government administration. For example, the World Bank defines electronic government (e-Government) as “the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, transparency and accountability of government” and argues the “e-Government helps to increase the transparency of decision-making processes by making information accessible – publishing government debates and minutes, budgets and expenditure statements, outcomes and rationales for key decisions, and in some cases, allowing the on-line tracking of applications on the web by the public and press” (World Bank, 2010).
According to the United Nations Development Programme and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, “No matter how corruption is defined, it weakens societies and impacts and hinders social and economic development. It deflects domestic and foreign investment away from where it is needed; it weakens education and health systems; exacerbates inequality; distorts electoral processes and undermines government institutions”. Corruption exists in all sectors of society and it damages country’s development by undermining faith in public institutions. Corruption falls unreasonably on the poorer members of society and hinders them from accessing scarce services. Civil society in development countries are demanding greater transparency as a key component in fighting corruption and empowering people living in poverty. Increased transparency is often dependent on political will, and civil society around the world is actively challenging their governments to open up systems to public scrutiny. When governments do not have the capacity or the will to launch administrative reforms to remove the opportunities for corruption, adding external pressure on officials by increasing the risk of exposure might be a workable alternative.
While ICT is not a magic bullet when it comes to ensuring greater transparency and less corruption, it is convinced that it has a significant role to play as a tool in a number of important areas:
•    ICT can perk up transparency in public sector by growing the coordination, dissemination and administrative capacity of the public sector, as well as improve service delivery by employing user-friendly executive systems.
•    ICT assists the collection of digital footprints and complete audit trail which increase the opportunity to hold individuals accountable and eventually increase the possibility to spot corrupt practices.
•    ICT can facilitate the work of civil society organization working towards greater transparency and against corruption by supporting a mix of methods of campaigning on transparency and educating citizens on what corruption is about and their civil rights.
•    ICT can help information sharing and social mobilization and ultimately provide digital platforms where citizens can report incidents anonymously.
In nutshell, citizens must have access to public information in order to allow democracy to function. Lack of access to information results in non-participatory society in which political decision-making is not democratic. Access to information concerning governance of the state allows individuals to exercise their political and civil rights in electronic processes; challenge or influence public policies; monitor the quality of public spending; and demand accountability. Access to information and transparency are thus prerequisites for democracy as well as a key tool in the fight against corruption.
 


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