Mobile phones – new weapons in Pakistan’s war on corruption

Source: https://www.facebook.com/PunjabITBoard/photos/a.341129202603154.71288.340860042630070/735602969822440/?type=1
Source: https://www.facebook.com/PunjabITBoard/photos/a.341129202603154.71288.340860042630070/735602969822440/?type=1

[Originally published on FutureChallenges.org]

Beset by economic woes and laboring under rapid demographic change, Pakistan still manages to leverage the power of technological breakthroughs in new and creative ways to improve the workings of government. One such way was found by Zubair K. Bhatti, the government administrator of the district of Jhang, and his example is now being replicated throughout Punjab, the largest province of Pakistan.

In Pakistan, like in any developing country, corruption is a scourge for honest officials and citizens alike. Accounting for each state transaction in a country with more than 180 million people is no easy task. However, thanks to a competitive telecom market, around 120 millionof these people (according to the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority) are now equipped with a mobile phone, a fact that Mr. Bhatti astutely realised when he came to develop his model of governance to check petty-corruption by state officials through a simple process of citizen feedback via mobile phones.

The Citizen Feedback Model (CFM), initially known as the Jhang Model of Governance, uses a simple process that involves citizen feedback to the state through mobile phones for any financial transaction between a citizen and the state.

Prior to the introduction of the system, many officers used to take advantage of people’s ignorance of service charges and rates and charge higher rates than the prescribed ones. Yet as the CFM website now says, “The idea is quite simple: whenever a citizen uses any government service, his or her cell number is recorded and a supervisory officer (or a call agent on his behalf) then calls the citizen up to find out if any lower state functionary has taken part in corrupt practices. If a pattern of corruption can be identified, action is taken. The powerful deterrence created by this easy type of government-citizen communication covering all kinds of services and backed by a credible threat of punitive action immediately curbs petty non-collusive corruption.”

I spoke to Asim Fayaz, consultant  for the World Bank on the implementation of the model, about the effect it could have on the relationship between citizens and state, and he emphasized that the CFM is filling the trust deficit between the two: “Rather than passively waiting for complaints, the state proactively reaches out to citizens and inquires about their well-being. As a result, it builds citizens’ trust in the state and they begin feeling empowered enough to challenge the “agent mafia”. That is the tipping point.”

A very excited Zubair Bhatti likened the reduction in the number of cases of petty corruption in his district to the popping of bubbles of soap lather as officers start to feel accountable and fear the consequences of their widespread but previously unpunished corruption. He also added that citizens were very pleased to hear the recording of the Chief Minister’s message in the automated calls they received. “For the people, it’s like the Chief Minister is taking a personal interest in their business, which is very encouraging for them.”

The Citizen Feedback Model gives us hope for the future of governance in Pakistan (and the rest of the world too if it is replicated) because it covers many issues related to governance in the twenty-first century.

Firstly, it makes excellent use of information and communication technologies that rapidly collect, process, and produce results on a massive scale, and have the capacity to cope with demographic changes.

Secondly, as noted above, the CFM forms a direct link between the citizen and the state that was missing before and that now brings an element of trust into the relationship.

Thirdly, it sets a valuable precedent for the systematic management of service-delivery not only in the public sector but in the private sector as well.

And finally the model provides a much needed solution for tackling the widespread scourge of petty corruption in state institutions.

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