Use technology more to combat corruption

Publish: 9:31 PM, May 4, 2021 | Update: 9:31:PM, May 4, 2021

The traditional view is that corruption breeds in the minds of men and the same can be cured mainly by cleansing minds. To this end, some suggest moral education to prevent corruption while others recommend exemplary punishment as a deterrent to corruption. And yet others may contend that better remuneration and privileges in the work places will undermine instincts for rent seeking among corruption prone civil servants.

But these are really theoretical constructs only that have been proved ineffective in the context of Bangladesh. For instance, the civil service academy of Bangladesh trains all entrants into the civil service with moral education.

But this hardly had a role in reducing their temptation to be corrupt. The salaries and other monetary benefits, plus perks of civil servants, have gone up substantially during the last couple of decades.

Civil servants now get nearly 80 per cent of their last salary drawn as monthly pension. Thus, a retiring Secretary can expect to get no less than thirty thousand taka as monthly pension these days and retirement time total benefits in the neighbourhood of one crore Taka-something unthinkable in the past. Under secretaries also can count on not much less significant compensations.

What this editorial intends to underline is other than making preachy and pious moralistic suggestions, which prove to be otherwise ineffectual, other real life solutions to corruption and inefficiency need to be explored based mainly on technologies.

Computer and other technologies are making government administration more efficient in the developed countries. But a developing country like Bangladesh can also start making good use of the same to successfully combat corruption and make governmental functions transparent.

There are many areas in Bangladesh where the use of the computer can revolutionise the government administration. For example, computerisation of the courts and land administration can help to overcome the present very ossified and corrupt systems of work at these two areas of the administration.

Anyone who had ever steeped inside a court house specially in a rural area in Bangladesh would remember how outdated and archaic was the system of working there. Record rooms of the court houses are dens of corruption. Work is done manually and very tediously where getting the copy of a record can take a very long time if the palms are not properly greased.

Then again, the records can be manipulated through bribing. Record keeping through the traditional document writers take both time and leave open the scope for deliberate manipulation.

All such ill practices can be effectively brought to a close probably through comprehensive computerisation of the court houses and their recording systems. If this is done, both the speed of the functioning of the courts will increase and record keeping can become fool proof.

It is not that computerisation of the courts is not there at all. Some limited computerisation of courts is noted in Dhaka. But in other regions of the country, there is noted inadequate such computerisation of the courts. Only some years ago, the DC office in Dhaka introduced the keeping of land records in a computer based system. But the picture remains as primitive as ever in many places way from Dhaka.

Presently, the police spend a great deal of their time in writing diaries of cases and investigations by hand. The system has hardly changed since the colonial era. Records of criminals are similarly kept hardly befitting the need for speed when the soaring number of crimes and the voluminous investigation reports dictate much speedier handling.

Only recently, computers have been introduced in some police stations in Dhaka. But elsewhere in the country, computers are conspicuously not to be seen in the police stations particularly in the semi-urban and non urban areas.

In some police stations of the country, files of years ago even turn unreadable from disuse and the careless or unprotected filing system. Computers can come to the rescue in such a situation. A single computer in a police station can make redundant thousands of files accumulated over the years and release space at the station and extra time for the policemen for their field work as they would not have to do so much tedious writing work.

Furthermore, computerisation can tremendously aid detection of criminals as their pictures can be preserved in computers and the same can be brought to the screen any time through the click of a mouse. How computerisation can speed up administration is evident from only the working of the Bangladesh Road Transport Authority (BRTA). Even in the eighties, the BRTA did its work manually. Mountains of paper at each BRTA office was the unchanging scene.

This situation understandably bred delays and corruption for such a thing as even the simple act of registration of a car after its purchase. Things began to change from the early part of the nineties when BRTA offices were fully computerised.

Now registration and other documents can be obtained fast within one working day and also hassle free from a BRTA office by those who are familiar with its current system of working and who do not fall prey to touts at these offices. Anyway one looks at it, computerisation marked an advance for the better in BRTA offices.

The same kind of efficiency, speed of working, transparency and reduction of corruption can be achieved by introducing computers in all spheres of the government administration. The customs department is considered as a very corrupt one in Bangladesh. But use of the computer– which has much reduced the need for human application– is reportedly already succeeding in bringing corruption down in this key department.

With its greater computerisation, perhaps the corruption in this department can be further reduced substantially. Thus, real hope is showing up that greater application of computers for governance can be a very potent factor in the fight against corruption within the government as well as for speeding up of the functioning of the government departments in Bangladesh.