The Use of Technology to Prevent Corruption in Lebanon
(Note: this article is taken from:Â http://act.karimmuhtar.com)
How many times have you orderly waited in a queue to see someone surpass the line and take someone else’s turn? How many times have you heard that someone was offered a bribe and accepted it? How many times have you noticed that government funds have disappeared inexplicably? How many times have you applied for a job to realize that it has already been taken by someone related to the employer? The answer to these questions is probably “a lot”! Corruption is everywhere, and it is a big problem, specifically in Lebanon. Some people might say that corruption can’t be prevented and can’t be controlled; “it is hopeless trying to prevent it because the people on top are corrupt”[i]. Others believe that no, it is not hopeless to fight corruption, and many things can be done. One of the things that can be used is technology. Technology can in fact be used to prevent and control government and corporate corruption in Lebanon in many ways. Before we discuss some of these technological options, let us begin by studying the Lebanese governance system and defining corruption.
The Lebanese (Governmental) System
Lebanon’s government system is based on sectarian divisions. Each sect has its own prominent leaders. These leaders in part have their own political groups and appoint their own officials. Instead of caring about the public interest of Lebanon, most political leaders in Lebanon care for their own personal interests and the interest of their political parties and religious sects. A lot of favoritism is practiced in distributing government positions and appointing public officials. Not only that, but most Lebanese leaders and ministers abuse their positions of power and authority, and abuse government resources to their own personal interests. Ministers have been accused of stealing government funds, creating laws leading to personal benefit, accepting bribes in return for creating certain laws, rejecting productive project proposals from members of opposite political parties, as well as many other corrupt practices. When one thinks of the Lebanese government, one directly thinks of the term “corruption”.
Let us now take a look at some definitions of corruption. One classical definition of corruption is “the use of one’s public position for illegitimate private gains and the abuse of power, in the private and public domains, for personal ends…”[ii]. Corruption is also defined as “the behavior of private individuals or public officials who deviate from set responsibilities and use their position of power in order to serve private ends and secure private gains”[iii]. Corruption exists when an individual “illicitly puts personal interests above those of the people and ideals he/she is pledged to serve”[iv].
There are many types of corruption, and it can be classified in various ways. According to the Benchmark Poll on Corruption in Lebanon made in 1999, 46% of the people strongly agree and 72% agree that corruption includes: “bribery, kickbacks, acceptance of gifts, nepotism, tax evasion, abuse of power, illegitimate profit, adopting legislation to serve the people in power, mismanagement of public funds, extortion, multiplicity of law, leniency, discrimination, non-transparent behavior, illegal offering of contracts, confiscation of public property”â€¦ According to the “National Action for Fighting Corruption in Lebanon” experts meeting, corruption in Lebanon can be classified into three categories: grand corruption; practiced by politicians and public officials, parochial corruption; such as the practice of nepotism and favoritism, and petty corruption; practiced by civil servant with limited income[v]. Moreover, the annual report of the Higher Disciplinary Council and the Benchmark Poll on Corruption in Lebanon in the year 2000 says that both petty corruption and parochial corruption are dominant in the public administration. Nevertheless, it is agreed that these two forms of corruption are the outcome of grand corruption, specifically that of the politicians.
To be more specific, corruption, be it any of the above-mentioned categories, can take several different forms. Forms of corruption include bribery, embezzlement, fraud, intimidation, abuse of power, conflict of interest, insider trading, favoritism, nepotism, and identity theft… Let’s briefly discuss each of these forms of corruption. Bribery means giving, promising, or offering any kind of advantage that might illegally influence the behavior of a public representative.
A bribe can be given directly to a public servant, or indirectly to some other unit. It includes money, information, gifts, job offers, entertainment, sexual favors, the offering of some company shares, or any other kind of favors and advantages. An example of bribery would be if a police officer accepts money instead of giving out a ticket. Another example is when an officer accepts money or a gift so that he would ignore certain imports or exports or certain tax charges. Similar to bribery, receiving a favor, benefit or illegal commission; or when someone receives a certain gift or benefit after doing a certain bureaucratic task, is also a form of corruption. An example would be when a government employee takes a tip after doing a governmental service or task for another person. Yet another similar form of corruption is illegal contributing. Illegal contributions are when authorities give money, gifts or advantages in order to achieve something they want. An example is when a company gives extra money to the employees so that they would overlook certain things, or when a politician gives gifts and money to the people so that they would vote for him.
Another form of corruption is embezzlement. Embezzlement is when someone who is trusted to be in charge and control of some precious properties or resources steals from them. For example, embezzlement is practiced when a government official steals government funds, or when hospital employees steal medicine from the hospital and sell them to other pharmacies.
Yet another form of corruption is fraud. Fraud means when someone uses deception and tricks or pretends something fake in order to get some kind of advantage or profit. An example of corporate fraud would be faking numbers to avoid paying taxes.
Corruption can also take the form of intimidation. Intimidation is when someone threatens someone else, or a corporation or business, in order to alter some official’s opinion or position, especially to coax that someone (usually leaders) to do or to change something specific. An example is when a politician or official is threatened to adopt a certain political viewpoint or action or else he would be killed. Similarly, the abuse of power is when someone takes advantage of his/her power to favor some and mistreat others.
Another form of corruption is the conflict of interest. Conflict of interest means when two people in a certain relationship can’t follow each other’s interests, for example; when a government official offers a contract to a company that his party owns, instead of to that of an opposing party.
A related form of corruption is insider trading. Insider trading means illegally using and taking advantage of certain information for one’s own benefit (and therefore being unjust to others). An example is when a government executive knows that prices of a certain product are soon going to increase due to new taxes, he tells his own family or relatives to buy lots of that product and re-sell it for profits later.
Another kind of corruption is favoritism. Favoritism is when the executives’ close ones receive better treatment and more advantages than the others, and when advantages are given according to someone’s religion, party, etc…Â for example, when only the people of the same religion or party as the administrator are the ones who receive certain privileges and advantages, or when executives’ relatives or friends are given higher salaries than the other employees. Similarly, nepotism is favoritism of the family, or when an official makes sure that his family members are selected to join the public sphere, or that they acquire benefit from the public state. For example, nepotism is when an administrator hires one of his relatives, even when others have more credentials for that specific post.
Finally, a somewhat different form of corruption is identity theft. Identity theft is when an identity document is copied and forged and abused. Examples of identity theft include when imposters are used to vote in elections. Identity theft can also be used in several crimes, such as hacking bank accounts and using a fake identity to do criminal acts.
So how can technology be used to control corporate and government corruption in Lebanon? To answer that question, one has to keep in mind some of the effects of new media or the internet and computers in Lebanon. According to the book New Media and Politics, new media can undermine government leaders and shorten their political lives[vi]. In our context, that could be done by exposing any corruption practiced by government leaders. The fact that new media has this undermining power should somehow alarm government leaders not to be corrupt, for their corruption could be easily exposed to the public if found out about. New media prevents corrupt politicians from hiding their true images. It also makes governments more publicly open and less secret[vii], and this also helps prevent corruption. Moreover, the Arab population is becoming younger, and the young Arab generation is being widely exposed to new media, new trends, and communication tools[viii]. This helps in the Arab reform process.
Many technological methods, including new media, can be used to control certain forms of corporate and governmental corruption in Lebanon. Our focus is going to be on the technological solutions that can be used to control these certain forms of corruption; such as bribery, embezzlement, intimidation, fraud, favoritism, and identity theft. Such possible anti-corruption technological solutions include implementing an e-government, computerizing work and services wherever possible, using actroids instead of public service employees, and installing surveillance cameras in offices.
To begin with, let’s discuss the first possible effective technological solution to governmental corruption in Lebanon: the implementation of an e-government. E-government is “the electronic interaction (transactions and information exchange) between governments, the public (citizens and business) and employees”. E-government “focuses on public oriented service offerings supported by IT”[ix]. In simpler words, an e-government is a government website where citizens can carry out transactions and access information on the internet instead of going to government offices and headquarters. E-governments could be used for voting, issuing and acquiring licenses, filling applications, and paying/collecting taxes and revenue. It could also be used for information access and sharing, procurement, services and goods sourcing, and payroll transactionsi[x].
The use of e-government would control bribery, fraud, and identity theft. For example, tax collectors won’t be bribed because taxes would be paid online or automatically deducted from bank accounts. The taxes would also be accurate and kept on an online record instead of being forged by the tax payer and a bribed tax collector. Instead of having public employees take bribes and illegal contributions to finish official documents and grant licenses, applicants would apply online and receive their documents and licenses fairly and on time. With proper technical technological security and privacy, E-government would also limit identity theft. Online users of the e-government would each have individual accounts and passwords, and could also use smart cards to carry out transactions. In general, the use of an e-government would limit corruption by eliminating the factor that contributes most to corruption: the corrupt human public official or employee.
While the e-government solution can only be applied to governmental corruption, the counterpart solution for corporate corruption would be computerizing work and services and using a computerized information and services system.Â Computerizing work and services helps limit bribery and fraud. For example, instead of having an employee take bribes or illegal contributions for filling applications for a loan or for giving a customer a big discount on bills, the customer could fill an online application or buy whatever he needs through the internet, where discount rates are fixed for everyone. Another example would be when companies report numbers for taxes: instead of reporting manual forged numbers, they would report a digital database of all cumulative numbers throughout a period of time, where the final number previously reported and forged manually would now be automatically computed by the database being handed in. That database could be handed in online through an e-government website.
Another possible solution to corporate and government corruption in Lebanon is the use of Actroids. Actroids are new intelligent hi tech robots that realistically look and act like humans. They are capable of speech recognition, and are programmed to speak in several different languages. Actroids are also equipped with built-in cameras and a lot of sensors at several points of the robot body. They are also capable of doing several facial expressions and hand gestures. Actroids are made of silicone substances or elasometric gel, making them look and feel very realistic. These robots are made to even mimic human involuntary movements such as breathing and blinking, and that makes them seem even more real. Actroids can be programmed to do certain tasks and serve as alternatives for human employees with jobs that are simple and require no serious decision making, because computers’ decision making abilities is limited and depends on the program code or depends on human intervention. So for example, Actroids were first used as receptionists and tour guides in Japan. Actroids and other similar robots are currently available for personal and commercial purchase or rent[xi].
So why can’t actroids be used instead of public service employees who run low level jobs with no or limited decision making? The use of actroids instead of this kind of public service employees would control petty corruption practices such as bribery and favoritism. Instead of having a public service employee who takes bribes and illegal contributions from a patron to carry out their services faster, an actroid could be used. Afterall you can’t bribe a machine, can you?Â And instead of having a public service employee carry out his friend’s services before the rest of the waiting queu of patrons, an actroid could be used to do the job in a fair way. An actroid wouldn’t differentiate between people, and would recognize a person as a patron, not as an individual person with a specific identity. Actroids could be used at reception desks, information desks, and document processing and issuing offices, where certain forms of petty corruption are usually present.
Finally, another effective technological solution to corporate and government corruption in Lebanon is the use of surveillance cameras in offices. Surveillance cameras placed in offices record the daily life and all the actions that take place in these offices. Surveillance cameras can also record sound, so all sounds and conversations in an office are recorded as well. The video recordings are usually saved on computers, and can be watched directly in real-time, or can later be watched over and over because theyâ€™re saved on the computers. Therefore, surveillance cameras could capture a person practicing corruption in the act. The recordings could be used as legal evidence against that person in court, and this would lead to dire consequences for that corrupt person. The person charged with corruption could be fired, fined, and even imprisoned.Â All this could happen because of the surveillance cameras that recorded the act of corruption in the first place. Therefore, a person who might be considering practicing an act of corruption wouldnâ€™t consider it anymore if there were surveillance cameras capturing their every move, because they know what the negative consequences of their actions would be. Surveillance cameras should be installed in all offices subject to acts of corruption. Surveillance cameras are effective against tangible or visible acts of corruption such as bribery, embezzlement, intimidation, and identity theft; actions that can be recorded on camera. A person receiving a bribe, a person stealing resources, a person threatening someone else, and a person faking identity could all be caught on camera.Â In conclusion, the presence of surveillance cameras would definitely scare corrupt employees and leaders from performing corrupt actions, for they will fear that their actions would be found out about, and theyâ€™d be punished for their criminal acts. Simple, yet effective; that is the way surveillance cameras in offices can act as a solution to control corruption.
It is not helpless to control corporate and government corruption in Lebanon. “When there is a will there is a way”, and this way can be in the form of technology. An E-government, actroids, and surveillance cameras are three effective technological solutions that can be used to control corporate and government corruption in Lebanon. Bribery, fraud, embezzlement, intimidation, and identity theft could all be controlled using these solutions. All it takes is a brave honorable public leader to start somewhere by taking the brave innovative decision to start using these technological solutions to control corruption. The question that remains however is who is that brave honorable leader going to be; does such a leader really exist?!
Official article source: http://act.karimmuhtar.com/
[i] Controlling Corruption, Robert Klitgaard
[ii] Experts Meeting: “National Action for Fighting Corruption in Lebanon”, January 22, 2001
[iii] Lebanon Anti-Corruption Initiative Report, 1999
[iv] Controlling Corruption, Robert Klitgaard
[vi] New Media and Politics, Barrie Axford and RichardÂ Huggins
[vii] Democracy and New Media, Henry Jenkins and David Thorburn, The MIT Press
[viii] DAOUD KUTTAB (2007). PensÃ©e 3: New Media in the Arab World. International Journal of Middle East Studies, 39, pp 534-535
[ix] E-Government: Business without Boundaries, Mr. Ayman Haddad, Partner, PriceWaterHouseCoopers, Lebanon E-government 2000 CD
[x] E-Government: Business without Boundaries, Mr. Ayman Haddad, Partner, PriceWaterHouseCoopers, Lebanon E-government 2000 CD