Tuesday, January 25, 2011

West used technology to check corruption. So should we


-by punem sexena-Am not sure how many of you followed the development a few days ago that the city of New York appointed new media entrepreneur, Rachel Sterne, as its first ‘chief digital officer’. The move is a brainchild of the city’s millionaire mayor, Michael Bloomberg, who is keen to get the city’s huge administrative machinery moving. Sterne would be tasked with finding ways of using technology to communicate better with NY residents and generally use technology to make their life easier.

Now, wouldn’t you want that to happen in India too? Let me elaborate. Having monitored IT and telecom sectors closely for almost two decades, one thing that is indisputable is that technology, utilized well, is a hugely potent tool if we are genuinely interested in providing good administration to our citizens. It assumes even greater importance in our country, beset with corruption at every level.

Some of the benefits in the fight against corruption are pretty obvious. Look at where most corruption (in terms of number of cases, not value) takes place in the country. It is in public dealings. According to rough estimates, almost 60-70 per cent of corruption cases could be bracketed under these. It is during such public dealings, to get one’s legitimate work done, that maximum harassment of the common man takes place. I am convinced it is in situations like these that technology can play a big role. I am unable to locate the story, but during Chandrababu Naidu’s tenure as the CM of Andhra Pradesh, when he brought in IT in public dealing in a small way, there was data to prove that corruption levels went down.

The public dealings could be for the purposes of getting a birth certificate, getting ones property registered, getting a learner’s license, passport made, or what have you. It is the human intervention during such dealings that dent the applicant’s self esteem. Not just that, they result in hugely unproductive use of time thanks to repeated visits that the corrupt individual would force one to make.

In almost all these dealings, it is possible to replace humans with machines. I know a lot of people will smirk. There is no dearth of doubting-thomases, but believe me, one of the reasons why the developed world seems better off is because such dealings are transparent and all legitimate work gets done easily thanks mainly due to the IT aided systems that are in place. There would be tremendous opposition from those who have made making money through these deals an art. To counter that, the administration and the politicians too have to show genuine will to help, not hinder, applicants.

One may not be able to put a value to it immediately, but the amount of productive time saved cannot be underestimated. And I am not even going into the important aspects of peace of mind and vast improvements in the happiness index that the absence of needless harassment would result in.

Would you agree? If you have an opinion, please do share. Let us see what works and then exert pressure on the government to do something. And while we are at exerting pressures, I am sure most of you are aware of the march against corruption that is being planned on January 30 by a group called India Against Corruption (IAC) (www.indiaagainstcorruption.org). The group is led by RTI activist and Magsaysay award winner Arvind Kejriwal.

As of this morning, the campaign seems to have gathered considerable pace. Initially planned only for Delhi, it has now grown and will now be held in over 55 Indian cities and the number is growing. It is even being planned in New York and DC. It would be great if all of us, irrespective of where we are, look up the website of IAC (www.indiaagainstcorruption.org) and see what is plan for the town/city we are in and join this.

As I said in my previous posts, corruption as an issue occupies our mindspace more than ever in the past. Even the corrupt politicians and babus are aware of the current public angst. This is a big chance for us to drive home the point that we are not willing to be used and milked. Period
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