A sub-Saharan African tax commissioner went to buy a bicycle for his son. The seller asked if he would like to get a receipt and pay a 15 percent higher price, or take the bike with no receipt at a lower price. The tax commissioner paused and thought. What would you do?
A healthy mix of innovation, continuous engagement, and effective implementation can bring about sustained transformation in public procurement. A more effective and transparent procurement system frees up public money for achieving more and better development outcomes and improving the delivery of public services.
Editor's note: This blog post is part of a series for the 'Bureaucracy Lab', a World Bank initiative to better understand the world's public officials.
“By introducing an automated customer management system we took a noose and put it around our own necks. We are now accountable!”
This reflection from a manager in the Nairobi Public Water and Sewerage utility succinctly captures the impact of MajiVoice, a digital system that logs customer complaints, enables managers to assign the issue to a specific worker, track its resolution, and report back to the customer via an SMS. As a result, complaint resolution rates have doubled, and the time taken to resolve complaints has dropped by 90 percent.
MajiVoice shows that digital technologies can dramatically improve public sector capacity and accountability in otherwise weak governance environments. But is this example replicable? Can the increasingly cheap and ubiquitous digital technologies—there are now 4.7 billion mobile phone users in the world—move the needle on governance and make bureaucrats more accountable?
The Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), together with other agencies are working towards Singapore’s vision to becoming the world’s first smart nation. That’s why World Bank Group colleagues were eager to hear from Mr. Chan Cheow Hoe – IDA’s Government Chief Information Officer (CIO) – and his team during their visit to World Bank on September 24, 2014, about their vision of a “smart nation”.
Mr. Chan opened the conversation by offering his understanding of the basics: what is “innovation”? Innovation, according to him, is a means to very concrete ends: solving people’s problems. When pursuing innovation in certain areas of life, we should first ask ourselves “what problems are we going to solve?” The answer to this question should guide our search for technologically enabled solutions.
A “smart” nation is one whose government employs innovative technologies to effectively respond to its peoples’ needs, improving their social and economic prospects. It does so inclusively, so that all sub-segments of the population benefit. This citizen-centric approach is the key to understanding governance in a smart nation; unlike business entities, the government cannot choose its customers and must serve all citizens. In doing so, the government has to deal with diverse subjects and issues, which adds complexity to the task. For this reason, the government should have a long term view and plan.
//Rasna Warah, journalist and independent researcher, analyzes key themes and conclusions emerging from a July 2014 workshop on the role of ICTs in statebuilding and peacebuilding in Africa.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) and new media have often been viewed as a solution to Africa’s myriad problems, including poor governance, conflict and poverty. From the M-Pesa mobile banking system in Kenya to the aggressive adoption of e-governance in Rwanda, the role of ICTs in improving Africa’s economy and governance systems cannot be underestimated.
However, while innovations and the use of ICTs on the African continent are on the rise, they have not necessarily reduced the threat of conflict. Evidence of a direct correlation between increased ICT penetration and innovations and peace and stability on the continent is sketchy at best, and quite often anecdotal, based usually on the innovators’ own assessment of the technology and its impact. For example, the Ushahidi platform, which has been praised internationally for allowing conflict-prone countries to track sites of violence and conflict within a region, and which played an important role in identifying areas of conflict during Kenya’s 2008 post-election violence, has not helped the country to significantly reduce the prospect of future conflict. On the contrary, the country has witnessed increasing terrorism-related violence and insecurity in recent months. Such innovations point to the fact that innovative technology by itself cannot reduce conflict if the social, economic and political conditions in a country are not conducive to peace and stability. It also shows that when the “hardware,” such as the police force and security and intelligence services are substandard, no amount of technology can prevent the threat of violence, conflict or insecurity.
"Once upon a time in the faraway Baltic region was a tiny nation of Estonia. Newly independent, with a population of 1.3 million, and with 50 percent of its land covered in forests, it was saddled with 50 years of under development. While it was operating with a 1938 telephone exchange, it’s once comparable neighbor across the gulf, Finland, had a 30 times higher GDP per capita and was waltzing its way into new technological advances. Estonia was faced with the challenge of catching-up with the rest of the world. It too embarked upon the technology bandwagon, but revolutionized it’s progression, by creating identity, secured digital Identity for its citizens. And finally, Estonia became a country teeming with cutting-edge technology. The end. “
These are some of the views and reports relevant to our readers that caught our attention this week.
“Technology bridges distance and borders. Individuals today can keep in touch with their friends and family in completely new ways — regardless of where they live. We explored these international connections through Facebook and found some trends — some predictable, some wholly unexpected, and some still inexplicable.
Who can explain the strong link between the Democratic Republic of Congo, one of the poorest countries in the heart of Africa, and Ecuador? The reason the Central African Republic might be good friends with Kazakhstan is likewise mysterious to us.” READ MORE
The World Bank recently hosted two events showcasing innovative tools and practices that can be used to help build bridges between schools and their local communities, helping to promote and support greater transparency, good governance and citizen engagement along the way.
The CheckMySchool (CMS) initiative in the Philippines (“promoting social accountability one school at a time”) is one of those projects that people intuitively ‘get’. Why not use tools like the web, Facebook, and mobile phones to help inform communities about the types of resources that their schools are supposed to have – and offer a way for them to report back when something is not as it should be?
As part of the AudienceScapes project, InterMedia has been conducting quantitative and qualitative research in Africa, to better understand how people gather, share and shape news and public interest information. In Kenya, InterMedia conducted in-depth interviews with 15 senior members of the policy-making community.