Four ways technology is helping fight corruption

08/06/2016

Working hard provides security and stability for ourselves and our families. At least it should. Bridget, who runs a small market stall in Nigeria, couldn’t earn enough because she had to pay too much tax to corrupt officials. She credits technology as a saving mechanism from the clutches of corruption: “We call it the No Cheating Machine. I am now saving 1000 naira when I sell at the market,” she says.

Corruption is one of the world’s biggest problems, and a recent summit hosted in London highlighted the sheer scale and size of this. It slows down growth, inhibits lives, and promotes an unethical get-rich-quick attitude to success.
So why not work to combat this with one of the fastest-changing and most necessary elements in society? Technology.

For effective, rapid, real-time change, here are four ways technology is working to reign in corruption.

1. Mobile app data collection

Apps for smartphones can actually enable evidence-based data gathering, real-time transmission of data and eliminate the inefficiencies of paper data collection. Replacing pen and paper can result in a greater level of transparency and accountability by allowing for multiple integrity checks. In Pakistan, for example, an independent monitoring unit that uses a smartphone app to record teacher absences has reduced the absence rate from 30% to 18%.

2. Text feedback from beneficiaries

The Somalia Stability Fund’s text-based hotline and beneficiary feedback system ensures that funds are spent correctly. It offers the chance for constructive feedback on projects from those who are directly affected. This information is then collated, analysed and uploaded onto the project website to ensure accountability and transparency. The Somalia Stability Fund has received more than 400 messages every month. This not only impacts implementation, but identifies inappropriate behaviour the fund is able to act upon.

3. Automating tax collection

Fairer treatment of tax payers can be ensured by abandoning pen and paper and recording data electronically. The implementation of an automated tax administration system in Afghanistan has moved taxpayer information from being hidden in a desk drawer to being recorded electronically and only accessed by the people who need it. This is a major cultural shift, increasing transparency and efficiency of operations. All of this has been supported by extensive taxpayer awareness and education activities, making citizens more aware of their rights and responsibilities to reduce their vulnerability to corrupt practices.

4. Collecting sales taxes using ‘point of sale’ technology

Paying tax by card on market stalls is much the same as paying for goods by card in shops. That’s the approach now being taken to sales tax collection in Nigeria, where previously traders would pay tax in cash and get a hand-written receipt, making considerable room for corruption. Tax collectors had more of an incentive to over-collect, resulting in missing cash and harassment of tax payers. By contrast, point of sale technology means transactions are automatically logged, with receipts printed immediately as proof of payment. In Nigeria, £1.9 million was saved by traders as a result of reduced bribery.