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Tuesday
Nov072017

Gemma Aiolfi: How companies can use e-government as a compliance tool

Earlier this year, the Basel Institute on Governance asked FCPA Blog readers about your perceptions on whether and how e-governance reduces corruption. Thanks to those of you who answered, we are pleased to share with you the results of our anonymous web survey published today in a new report entitled New Perspectives on E-Government and the Prevention of Corruption.

The report -- available here -- has been launched at a side-event discussion on innovative solutions to corruption prevention at the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC) Conference of States Parties (CoSP) in Vienna, Austria.

The objective of the Basel Institute E-Government survey was to determine the extent to which companies are aware of and use e-government solutions and their perceptions of the effects of such tools on preventing corruption and bribery. E-government generally refers to the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) to transform relations between citizen, businesses and various branches of government.  The baseline premise is that by reducing face-to-face contact with government officials, e-government can play a significant role in reducing corruption.

Of the 197 responses to the anonymous web survey, 83 percent were private sector actors from 33 different industry sectors with balanced geographic origins in the Americas, Asia-Pacific and China, Europe, and the Middle East and North Africa. Our report details interesting results of this survey, acknowledging its methodological restraints.

For starters, only 55 percent of company respondents affirmed that they used e-government tools. Of those who do, similar majorities indicated that they were motivated to use e-government for the purpose of reducing the time to complete a transaction (61 percent) as to reduce the risk of a demand for a bribe (60 percent).  Respondents most frequently used e-government tools in the fields of e-procurement and e-tax, primarily motivated to reduce bureaucracy in those processes. By contrast, respondents used e-government tools less frequently in the fields of e-customs and e-sourcing, but when they did, they indicated the highest levels of motivation to reduce corruption in these transactions.

Our report presents the survey results in a broader discussion on the rise of e-governance and its effects, including a literature review on the correlation between e-government and corruption prevention and anecdotal snapshots of the range of e-government solutions adopted by different countries from around the world.

Although the literature remains divided on the actual impact of e-governance on corruption prevention, some independent research papers and studies by the World Bank support this conclusion. Our modest survey adds some more evidence in this direction.

More than anything, however, our report and survey raise additional questions and draws up an action plan for private sector actors, governments, and researchers to deepen our understanding of the dynamic between e-government and corruption prevention.

Among our recommendations, we urge companies to integrate the requirement to identify e-government tools that may reduce the risk of bribery in their anti-corruption compliance policies and procedures. Less than half of the companies who responded to our survey have issued policies or internal communications directing their employees to use e-government for corruption-prevention ends. To improve the rate of use of e-government tools by the private sector, inspiration can be drawn from the compliance practices of companies such as GSK, which requires all country managers to reduce transactional face-to-face contact with government officials in order to reduce bribery risks by using e-government solutions where available.

We call upon governments to better harness the private sector as a driver of economic growth and development and to respond to private-sector requests and needs when developing their e-government strategies. With the CoSP currently underway, it is useful to recall its Resolutions 6/7 and 6/8 of 2015 calling upon States parties to UNCAC to use ICT tools to meet their corruption prevention obligations under international law. And more recently the 2017 G20 Leaders Declaration on Organizing Against Corruption included a call for the expansion of public service delivery through e-services particularly in areas with high corruption risks and the "use of tamper-proof workflows and automated procedures" as a means to minimize opportunities for corrupt behavior.

Finally, we encourage academics and practitioners alike to undertake further research and analysis on the correlation between e-government and corruption.

Our survey supports other reports that indicate that e-government is not infallible, with 16 percent of our survey respondents indicating they observed that bribery was facilitated by e-government tools. Accepting that digital solutions are not perfect, we still argue that e-government is still far from reaching its full potential. The more that e-government is used by companies, its effects studied, and governments respond to private sector feedback and concerns, the more that e-government can develop into a more effective tool to reduce corruption worldwide.

The full report, "New perspectives in e-government and the prevention of corruption," is available here.

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Gemma Aiolfi is the Head of Corporate Governance, Compliance and Collective Action at the International Centre on Collective Action at the Basel Institute on Governance. She can be contacted here.