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New tools to promote transparency could help new business propositions come to fruition, says Mahima Kaul.
India faces two major, systemic challenges: entrenched, pervasive corruption and irresponsible governance. Time and again, these familiar roadblocks have stopped businesses, NGOs and even politicians from bringing new ideas into an inefficient system.
The consequences can be devastating. A refusal to pay bribes can mean innovative solutions which could improve people's basic living conditions never reach them.
Then there's the question of capacity within government, particularly at the more junior, operational level. There is almost no real education given to government officers as to why they need to encourage newer, disruptive technologies. Even if there's no corruption, it can mean the cheapest tender gets the contract, rather than the sustainable alternative offering better long-term value.
One of the ways in which the government is trying to tackle both corruption and the lack of capacity within its ranks is to integrate ICT platforms into basic government processes. This has injected a welcome degree of transparency. For example, it's possible to track the progress of tenders through sites such as www.tenders.gov.in. Meanwhile, activists can expose decisions as to why certain companies are given contracts over others through using the Right to Information Act. Wielding new governance tools such as these could help India's citizens start to translate the concept of sustainable development into a reality.
“I paid a bribe…”
Imagine publicly confessing to bribing an official. Thousands of Indians are doing just that via a provocative website, Ipaidabribe.com, which shines a public spotlight on everything from petty police extortion to large-scale corruption. They’re joined by disgruntled current or former government officials, who give tips on how to avoid having to make a bribe. (There’s a section headed “I didn’t pay a bribe”, too.) “Do you think corruption is corroding the country?”, asks the site. “Your data will help change the system.”
“It’s a great example of a new kind of democracy and public participation”, says Ligia Noronha, Executive Director at The Energy and Resources Institute. “This sort of approach can produce a real shift in people’s attitudes.”
Mahima Kaul is a New Delhi-based journalist specialising in governance and development issues, particularly digital inclusion.