The perfect recipe for ending corruption

Posted November 14, 2018

This blog series takes a look at issues we will be discussing at our upcoming Istanbul Innovation Days (IID), an annual gathering of partners to explore innovative approaches to development and policy making. 

Governments around the world are losing the trust of citizens. The civic space is shrinking and the rule of law has become increasingly threatened. According to Social Progress Index, the world will hit the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) not by 2030, but only in 2094. Our progress toward SDG16 and the fight against corruption is vital for moving forward on other areas. Every year approximately USD 1,5 trillion is paid in bribes globally – that’s money which is not going into development.

No country is immune from corruption. Despite international and national legal instruments, which mandate national governments to effectively fight corruption, we still see large scale corruption scandals in every part of the world. Even Denmark, which over the last decades has always been a role model for clean governance, has recently witnessed a large-scale money laundering scandal involving country’s biggest commercial bank.

There is no silver bullet for preventing corruption. Every country has its own political, cultural and legal context; the measures that may be effective in country A may not work in country B. But there is hope. Many successful anti-corruption initiatives around the world have made it possible to save billions of dollars, improving the quality of citizens’ lives.

What do all these initiatives have in common?

  1. Transparency and citizen-engagement. When a government is working transparently, it helps not only the civil society and the wider public to hold government accountable, but it also encourages public officials to stay clean and perform their duties more efficiently. And what better way to achieve transparency than going digital? A portal in Brazil now publishes government’s all financial transactions, thus making it very difficult to commit any wrongdoing. E-procurement portals in Chile (“ChileCompra”) and Ukraine (“ProZorro”) enabled competitive and transparent bidding processes, saving billions of dollars.
  2. Strong political will. How do we generate political will within the government and the parliment? The best way is free and fair elections where people elect political party/leader who is committed to make a positive difference on this front. But citizens shall have tools to control fulfilment of pre-election promisises also in the post-election period. That is why it is important that ordinary citizens have effective tools to monitor activities of their governments and hold them accountable when public officials decide to abuse their official capacity in order to receive private gain. Most recently UNDP is co-designing anti-corruption action plans with municipality and civil society actors in several countries across the region.
  3. Modern technologies. We’re in the era of fourth industrial revolution, with artificial intelligenceneuromorphic supercomputersblockchain technology and machine learning gaining increased popularity. Such tools can be used to replace heavily (un)regulated processes, simplifying and de-mystifying bureaucratic procedures. In Georgia, the government is using blockchain technology to make it impossible to temper with the real estate registration system. In South Korea the government has implemented project called “e-People”, which allows citizens to report corruption or submit any claim to the government electronically. In the municipality of Valencia, Spain, they are already testing Anti-Corruption Early Warning Scheme called SALER, which connects many government-owned databases to detect corruption before it even happens.

Of course, the success of such initiatives depend on internet penetration rates. Without governments working to increase internet access in rural areas, the impact of such reforms won’t reach the everyday people who need these services most.

Technology is changing the world around us. It is also transforming the ways in which governments work and deliver services to their citizens. Governments that invest in digital and data capabilities are 3,5 times more likely to deliver successful transformation than those who don’t. Although tech tools are able to decrease corruption in the long run, the need for political commitment for such changes are at all time high. Technological transformation is important, but not sufficient. It needs to be people-centred.

We will be discussing the nexus between innovations, cutting-edge technologies and functioning of the governments of the future at the Istanbul Innovation Days on 27-29 November 2018. Join us online at #NextGenGov and be part of the conversation.

Editor’s note: You can learn more about UNDP’s work on anti-corruption here and about OECD/ACN here.

Editor's Note: If you found this blog interesting, also check out: When it comes to ending corruption, is there light at the end of the tunnel?