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The role of ICT in fighting corruption

The recent discovery of a fictitious payments scheme at the National Youth Service demonstrates how corruption can be dealt with proactively.

Although thieves were taking advantage of technology to perpetrate pilferage, it must be recognised that it is the same technology that made it possible for the scheme to be detected. Without automation, the fight against corruption has a snowball’s chance in hell.

In the past, ministries would commit resources beyond what has been appropriated by Parliament resulting in what is referred to as “pending bills.”

The excuse often has always been that it was difficult to determine resource availability. President Uhuru Kenyatta’s persistence that the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) be actualised in financial resource management is indeed paying off.

Now, we need to move one step further and embrace Open Contracting (OC), which would greatly enhance transparency for the betterment of our country.

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OC is a collaborative movement started by the World Bank Institute and other partners like the Web Foundation to enhance disclosure and participation in public contracting.

It is one of the open data initiatives that are to define future governance systems of both the developed and developing countries.

From its website, OC refers to norms and practices for increased disclosure and participation in public contracting including tendering, performance and completion.

Open contracting encompasses all public contracting, including contracts funded by combinations of public, private and donor sources.

Studies such as those done by the Swedish Programme for ICT in Developing Regions confirm that ICT facilitates the collection of digital footprints and complete audit trail which increases the opportunity to hold individuals accountable and ultimately increases the possibility to detect corrupt practices; improve transparency in the public sector by increasing the co-ordination, dissemination and administrative capacity of the public sector as well as improve service delivery by employing user-friendly administrative systems and facilitate information sharing .

In Kenya, we are lucky because among the developing countries, diffusion of ICTs especially on the mobile platform is very impressive. Indeed academics continue being confounded by how we achieved it.

This has brought about an inclusive innovation ecosystem where innovations are disrupting the old order. At the launch of Kenya Open Data Initiative in 2011, several innovations mushroomed, with most of them targeting removal of inefficiencies that breed corruption.

There were innovations around the Constituency Development Fund, which related to poverty mapping that would reveal spending patterns of our elected leaders.

It was the first time we came closer to holding our leadership to account but unfortunately, they fought back and stopped this noble initiative.
At the many application incubation centers, we have many new apps that are geared to fighting corruption.

If implemented, such apps would lead to new enterprises that are likely to create sustainable employment.

There are apps that would track pharmaceutical supplies from source to end user, eliminating corruption that has denied patients access to medicine. What is needed is the political will to leverage on local creativity to effectively fight corruption.

In our objective fight against corruption, many innocent people would inevitably suffer because corrupt cartels have their ways of fighting back. In the end, however, our country and our people would benefit as we reap the anti-corruption benefits.

The key weapon in the fight against corruption is widespread adoption of technology accompanied by a culture of full disclosure and openness.
Without the ICTs, we are simply working towards the veneration of corrupt into a demigod.

We have embarked on a very difficult journey that requires zeal and determination. We must keep the faith, and our eyes on the prize. We cannot afford to turn back.

Sooner rather than later, we will have to publish all public data for the public to know. There is much to learn from the developed countries like the United States.

Investigative agencies do not divulge the names of those they are investigating until they have sufficient evidence and traceability often using the ICTs.

Here, it often appears like our quick announcements are meant to scuttle judicial process, for named suspects are soon released for lack of evidence. We need to code wealth declarations and reconcile them with actual spending of individuals.

Doing so is now possible since we have almost migrated to a cashless economy.
We shall not only deal with corruption but tax evasion leading to lower tax rates. It is the continuous innovation around the vice of corruption, coupled with an embrace of openness that will eventually eliminate corruption and free us from the bondage of poverty.

The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi’s Business School.

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