Does Technology Matter in Fighting Corruption?
Many local governments in Indonesia have applied Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in purchasing goods and services, known as electronic auction system (e-procurement). E-procurement that is considered as a major aspect in bureacracy reform is expected to reduce corruption.
The e-procurement system in local government and other government bodies is believed to be the realisation of panopticon vision idea of Jeremy Bentham (1978). Panopticon Vision is a concept of prison design which allows an observer to observe prisoners in which the prisoners will not be able to know that they are being secretly watched. In this state of affairs, the prisoners are conscious of being observed all the time. The consequence is that they behave with compliance under the existing law and regulation as well as norms. This concept is further developed as the model of surveilence and discipline of the modern society.
The application of ICT is assumed to provide powerful tool for eradicating corruptive behaviour and the collusion and nepotism (KKN) in government. However, it is not evident that the use of ICT positively correlated to the reducing rate of corruption. On the contrary, the use of ICT leads to a new form of corruption practices. Heeks (1998) argued that there are some forms of new corruption practices.
The adoption of ICT in governmental systems creates an opportunity for the officers and staffs who understand and occupy skills of ICT (e-literate) and at the same time blocks chances for those who do not understand ICT. This is called as a up-skilling corruption. Computerized train ticket reservation system by state railway company is one of the examples. With the computerization in ticket reservation, the practice of corruption (KKN) done by middleman or calo is expected to be diminished. However, the reality is far from the expectation. The practice of middleman is rampant especially on the period of public holiday. Without a clear law enforcement in the new system, such high cost investment will remain a waste. The law enforcement could be as simple form as the limited ticket number to be reserved by a customer or the verification of the passanger identity against the data on the ticket. To make it even worse, the new system will only lead to the formation of new corruption for those who understand how train ticket computerization works. At the end of the day, ICT adoption does not eliminate the corruption.
The ICT adoption in government business transforms the public services that is done manually and face-to-face into automatic one. Public services such as the issue of ID card, driving license, passport and motor vehicle taxes payment are done with computerisation. As the result, the flow of services is shortened.
Previously, within the long flow of services lies the opportunity for corruption. In bureaucracy, the flow of services is seen in booths and tables through which one should to go to get a service done. The more booths/tables they have the more bribery might occur. Hoping to eradicating corruption, booths/tables were then replaced by computer. However, the computerisation system in delivering public services still requires human intervention. Staffs who operate the system and understand it potentially become the new actors of corruption but terminate the access of old way corruption, a non-techonology based corruption, done by staff who have no computer literacy (e-literacy). This new type of corruption is the result of the termination of the access for corruption found in traditional method public services provision and the opening access of new corruption found in ICT application in public services.
Related to the panopticon vision idea to always watch over the prisoners, the ICT adoption in public service provision system is to observe the work and performance of public officials. The positive aspect of this continous observation is to lessening the corruptive behaviour of public officials. However, this does not apply to the officials who are e-litterate. As they have access to do corruption persisted to the corrupt behaviour. Furthermore, these officials then will spread the myth of the powerful ICT to detect the corrupt behaviour. This is done in the purpose of securing their new sources of corruption. Further, the assumption that ICT is powerful in fighting corruption by detecting and removing such behaviour often leads the leaders in the middle and upper management in government to ignore the manual intervention of leaders supervision which is very much still needed.
To conclude, the ICT application in public service provision will only enable the detection process, not necessarily the removal of the corruptive behaviour. Corruption rooted on political, economical and social problem, therefore it is insufficient to rely only on the assumption that ICT can act as panopticon vision. Knowledge and understanding about corruption is necessarily important. Additionally, ICT application is generally seen as an extrim change in organization culture, therefore creating resistence among the public officials. In this case, the most rational option is to adopt ICT and at the same time run the manual control and supervision, strengthened by the rules and regulation enforcement, strong leadership, a good insentive system and high level of commitment among stakeholders.
Lecturer of Parahyangan Catholic University and Doctoral Student at University of Birmingham – UK, The Japan Indonesia Presidential Scholarship Program Awardee