Advances in information and communication technologies (ICTs) are making e-government ubiquitous. Our everyday interactions with government - to pay taxes, register to vote, apply for licences, etc. - are now easier due to the enhanced services provided by e-government initiatives. It provides its populous with online administration systems that use ICT to make national governments and their services more accessible.
“As an unintended consequence of e-government, nations see an overall reduction in corruption,” says Professor Shirish Srivastava. In this context, corruption is defined as the abuse of public power in the public domain for private benefit. Srivastava adds, “In particular, the national systems in place to help citizens and businesses access services, are less corrupt when online e-government administration systems are implemented.”
Power breeds corruption
To get a deeper understanding of the role e-government has in reducing corruption in nations, Srivastava and co-workers took a closer look at what causes corruption. “Here, the saying, Knowledge is power, holds true,” Srivastava says. “In a nation, government generally has access to knowledge and resources that the people cannot reach. This creates a power asymmetry that breeds corruption.”
With the advent of e-government, however, citizens have gained access to information and now, can even monitor governmental processes. They can do this as governmental proceedings and processes are documented and information is published and available online. Besides increasing efficiency, this increased transparency brought about by the universal use and access of ICT, has inadvertently led to a reduction in corruption. Srivastava says, “Our study supports this observation, showing that there is less corruption in nations when e-government systems are active. We also see that e-government mitigates corruption at an institutional level, preventing its trickle-down to the services being used by people.”
Corruption permeates through national institutions
Srivastava et al. categorized 3 different institutions that hold the nation together:
1. Political, which are related to governmental organization
2. Legal, which dictate rules, procedures and their implementation
3. Media, which act as conscience keepers and checks
They looked at the level of corruption in these three institutions and found that overall, less corruption was seen when e-government systems are implemented. This effect was most significant in political and legal institutions, and less in media institutions.
The national systems in place to help citizens and businesses access services, are less corrupt when online e-government administration systems are implemented.
Mediation analysis (carried out through statistical tests) enabled Srivastava to understand that, when e-government is implemented, the reduction in institutional corruption leads to the public experiencing less corruption. In other words, the reduced corruption experienced by citizens and businesses does not occur as a direct result of e-government implementation, but rather is due to the reduction in corruption at the institutional level.
“Corruption spreads throughout the national framework,” Srivastava explains. “So, if e-government leads to less corruption at the institutional level, less permeates down to citizens and businesses.”
Legal and media institutions - key to combating corruption
Srivastava’s research also reveals that it is the legal and media institutions that act as the more effective corruption-sieves when e-government is implemented. Conversely, corruption in political institutions is shown to have very little impact on the corruption experienced by the public.
“Corruption at the public stakeholder level is not affected by governmental organisation. Instead, the way government mechanisms are implemented, through law and the media, is what has a significant effect,” Srivastava concludes. Simply speaking, the form of government and politics does not impact the level of corruption as much — compared to the judicious implementation of legal provisions and functioning of fair media.
To reduce corruption through e-government, therefore, Srivastava and co-researchers suggest that legal and media institutions should be targeted to make them corruption free. E-government systems could help in the process — for example, in the case of Singapore the progress of all law suits and police cases are accessible to public through online channels. In a similar vein, the Whitehouse website in the US envisages to maintain direct communication with the public to mitigate the chances of misinformation by media.