Moving public services online ‘will help governments fight fraud’

24 Oct 18

Moving public services online and adopting an e-governance approach could help governments fight fraud and corruption, the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said.

In a report, launched on Monday, the Danish government highlighted that e-governance – moving public services online – can also increase productivity, services and transparency.

Although not originally intended as an anti-corruption measure, e-governance has turned out to be a “powerful way” to tackle corruption “because the direct interaction takes out the human hands that might have been tempted to ask for bribes to advance requests and tasks”, the report said.

It suggested that countries where there are mature e-governance systems there is less risk of corruption – such as in Estonia, which has one of the most advanced e-governance systems in the world and is among the least corrupt.

Corruption was widespread in Estonia before the government adopted the anti-corruption act in 1995 and has since been a priority.

The report quoted the former Estonian president Toomas Hendrik Ilves, as saying that “you can’t bribe a computer”.

Estonia ranks 21 on Transparency International’s Corruption on Perception Index, which is above other post-communist countries in Eastern Europe. It also ranked first in the Cyber Security Index and Freedom on the Net Index.

However, the report highlighted that there needs to be sufficient resources allocated for the maintenance and updates of software and information, if e-governance is to be successful and secure.

Another key challenge that governments face is to ensure that the systems are user friendly and that both citizens and civil servants find them easy to access and navigate. 

At the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Copenhagen, where the report was launched, Achim Steiner, administrator of the UN Development Programme also said that new technology can act as a “powerful tool” to tackle corruption.

He said: “Corruption erodes people’s trust in their government institutions, undermines the checks and balances that safeguard our societies and threatens peace.

“New technologies, carefully managed, could offer a new generation of open and participatory governance.”

He pointed out that in 2013, it is believed that the developing world lost $1.1 trillion to illicit financial flows. It is also estimated that $1.5trn is paid in bribed annually.

The report, Code to Integrity: digital avenues to anti-corruption – also for her, suggested publishing more data and using blockchain technology to become more transparent, which could help spot fraud and corrupt actions.   

The report also suggested that technology can give governments greater oversight.

Adopting blockchain technology in the public sector also allows more secure and transparent records, the report said, as they cannot be altered and enables full traceability of any changes made on the chain.

But such solutions require sensitive data to be linked to an individual – such as identifying information to an aid recipient – which raises concerns about data privacy, the ministry said.

It also highlighted that because data entered into the blockchain cannot be deleted, flawed information could have long-term consequences on the individual. 

Machine learning and artificial intelligence can also be used to reveal patterns and practices that humans cannot detect, the report added, although it did not expand on this.

Did you enjoy this article?

Related articles

Have your say

CIPFA latest