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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The Nation Awaits the Generation that will do the Work

Disputes over who will lead, and how they will rule , for how long and how resources will be shared can be so engaging that we can mistake this for progress.  But the Bible warns about noisy twittering and fanciful pleasures  that are the pillars of the slothful and foolish.

Pro 6:6  Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise: 7  Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler, 8  Provideth her meat in the summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest.

The ant is a silent worker but an effective builder, collaborating without strife  – with minimal supervision.  When we observe developed cities and admire working rail, underground metro, domestic gas networks, good roads … we can forget that these were all built and continue to be maintained – until you take a leisurely stroll and note continued repairs, construction and maintenance of pipes, roads, wiring and infrastructure going on quietly.  We soon understand that there are institutions that propel order and ordain a quiet and disciplined industry that guarantees a future thriving civilization of “ants”.   The ant works quietly to gather provisions in the hot summer, preparing for the supplies that will sustain it through its winter seasons.  We learn from the ant that our industry today defines our rest and survival for tomorrow.  We are enjoying or paying  for our actions over previous decades and what we do today determines the tomorrow of our nations.

In life, we provide for death; in time we provide for eternity … how we deal with today’s trials will determine outcomes of future judgments.  In summer the weather is warm and ideal for rest …it is too sweaty to work, yet the ant works not for pleasure.  The grasshoppers sing and dance noisily from place to place in the summer …they enjoy the fun in the sun but they will all perish in the winter.  The ant on the other hand has a collaborative culture  of hard work (not talk and song) that stores for a future generation without being pushed or governed to do so.  There are some broad points.

  1. Government, supervision and regulation can be over-sized, burdensome  and though with good intentions,  these will need to self-destruct or downsized significantly in many areas before any meaningful good can happen.  People instinctively do not need to be governed to thrive. Models embracing small government, privatization and lean purposeful oversight structures enable better quality institutions and productivity  over  time.
  2. Underground metro lines, electricity distribution networks, gas pipelines and monetary /other institutions do not just happen, they are built through sustained disciplined efforts.  A nation that prefers strong men to institutions will soon discover that superior de-bottlenecked processes that motivate industry in the populace go much farther than a super genius pushing the best ideas.
  3. Excess debate, taskforces and repetitive unproductive planning are like the cheap songs of the grasshopper.  The cupboards of many regimes are full of excellent reports.  A small bridge built over a pond in a village is of far more value than a fantastic  but unimplemented city-of-the-future..  Implementation is always the bane of the best initiatives  …and good implementation of few imperfect ideas takes us much farther ahead.
  4. The grasshopper perishes in the winter not because it has good or bad leaders but because the work that should be done was not done. No one reengineered, none built, no one stored because it was too difficult and uncomfortable and troubling to do so. Leaving the status quo as-is guarantees the expiration of the grasshopper. The grasshopper is engaged with many other silly things.  To change our nation … we (not just leaders) must completely reexamine the things that engage our time.
  5. The work never disappears… rather it waits for the generation ready to build the infrastructure.  It does not matter that the grasshopper  prefers to prance about in the bountiful summer like she had it all …she will still come to the realization that the work that should have been done was not albeit that it is already too late. King Solomon warns that winter seasons come to all … both ant and grasshopper. Every nation is occasionally struck by adverse winds and cycles threatening  resources.

The ant survives because it has a culture lavish in silent hard work and industry in building to guarantee tomorrow.  There is no time for disputes or songs of self-praise because the ant senses the urgency to preserve itself for the future.  The grasshopper generation is not just noisy, but cannot and will not build anything because it just does not seem necessary …rather noisy chirping, talk, and mirthful entertainment to enjoy the summer fills its days.

Even if billions of dollars are poured  by foreign investors into a grasshopper generation that does not believe in work and robust fair institutions, they will still stupefy the ant in the wastage due to lack of efficient methods and as most of it seeps through the leakages into pipes that transport the funds to offshore havens designed uniquely for the slothful grasshopper.

The winter tests the robustness of institutions and the adequacy of storage.  The nations that are like the quiet ant that built and stored actually get stronger in the winter as the wasters will come to them with their last savings which quickly dissipates.   May God help us to  “ go to the ant…”

A.W. Tozer said … “Our strength and safety lie not in noise, but in silence.”

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