Fighting Corruption with E- Government

Mat_7:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

A lot has been said on anticorruption … and while I concur that the quick-win legal and enforcement issues are extremely key, my focus remains on strengthening societal institutions and the basic processes that control and influence everyday living.

When we talk about automation and processes in Nigeria – most people chuckle … while in other competitive societies, so much is being done with as little human interface as possible. You can obtain your driving license, passport, pay your taxes, start your business, regulatory clearance etc. without meeting any government officer in person or visiting any government building. All that is expected is that you clearly understand and obey the laid-down rules and provide evidence (with no human contact) that conditions are met. Many Nigerians cannot visualise their cheque books/bank cards/international passports safely posted to them. It sounds absurd that tax payers and citizens fund very fundamental institutions that cannot be trusted and indeed no more expected to play their role with all requisite standards of security. In the US during the 2nd World war as far back as in the 1940s … soldiers posted money to their loved ones who received them and the systems have only got better.

Obtaining regulatory approvals/getting things done in Nigeria require more interpersonal interaction and I dare say emotional intelligence as opposed to simply meeting the set criteria for such approval/transactions. Then of course we have to show appreciation for the painstaking effort of the many kind government officers and intermediaries who made it happen.

The internet and information technology have already made it possible to eliminate human interfaces for almost every transaction (and this technology is quite mature … already over 20 years old) … whether you are registering voters or seeking approval to build a refinery or local content approval. This complete elimination of human interfaces go a long way to encourage fairness and eliminating the grey areas which quickly descend further into the black boxes of corruption. For example … oil bloc bidding/awards , sales, oil contracts and indeed most of oil trade can be done on open portals that everyone who cares to can see/participate (if qualified) from a PC anywhere…. the rules are embedded and implemented transparently.

All over the world, economies are making their societies more competitive by introducing improvements to eliminate wastage, human interfaces and stages that do not add any value … banking halls are disappearing … paper passports are going(increasingly digitalised) … interviews can be done anywhere with anybody using virtual rooms helped with Skype/visual recognition and retina technology. Physical money is slowly becoming extinct … enabling tracking/tracing of all money flows….making most corruption almost impossible.

I love and also preach sermons on anticorruption telling ourselves that our great grandfathers would leave their treasures on the road side and would come back to meet them untouched. We often vow that the “old civil service” was an embodiment of ethics and we look backwards pining for those days. All I know now is that you will have a stampede on your hands if foolish enough to leave “diamonds” unguarded on the streets of New York. Valuable things must be protected by systems, documentation and legal enforcement or they will be stolen. There is nothing unusual or criminal about Nigerians. The same Nigerians are designing, managing and living with E-government processes in developed economies – obeying all the rules.

I argue that if ownership of discovered resources (oil, metals, gold etc) pass to individuals or private corporations (like we have e.g. in the United States) instead of to government, there will be an accelerated exploitation and expansion of mineral wealth, and end to most corruption … no more sabotaged pipelines and bunkering will cease.

Mat_7:6 Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you.

The things we treasure (not just our faith …but also our pearls) should be cherished and valued … assets, property, time, our resources … all seem cursed to be squandered through leaking government systems …and we wonder why we are stuck in a mire of decline. Competitive societies are protected by secure institutions …basic ground-level institutions like the Postal institutions, Police, City/municipal councils are extremely vital for a bottom-up sanitisation. A lot can be done quickly if basic data on citizens are completely digitised….if ownership, property, assets, residences are registered in linked digital platforms. E- Government sounds advanced – but is actually a MUST… and in truth far less complicated than the confused labyrinth that exists today.

I dare you to attempt to renew your Nigerian passport. You will come to the unavoidable conclusion that corruption is part of the DNA of all clumsy institutions even when you can find angels to manage them for a while.

I meet people everyday who give excuses why we cannot do these things yet. Countries now use the instrument of referenda to accelerate the decisions and changes they need to make where there are constitutional blockers etc. All I say to them is we will one day have to do these things whether we like it or not. The hard work ahead of building our institutions will not disappear – it is only waiting for who will lead us into a new era of progress. Enough of Politics.

 

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