As you can see from many of our blog posts, we're somewhat struggling with getting a good grip on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and their role for governance and accountability. We're also somewhat split along the lines of enthusiasm  and scepticism  with regard to the possibilities of using ICTs to straighten out a distorted public sphere and further development. This morning I learned about eProcurement, a very particular application of ICT in the context of government accountability, that seems to me a good argument in favor of us technology enthusiasts.
Samia Melhem  from the World Bank's Global ICT Department presented on "eProcurement as a tool of Government Transformation," talking about how a simple website set up by a Ministry of Finance can set off a process that curbs corruption, empowers citizens, helps governments saving a lot of money, and eventually changes an entire national culture. It so happens that client governments approach donors to help them set up eGovernment tools, in particular in procurement. Their motives are primarily economic: procurement without ICT is a license to lose money and puts the government at a disadvantage on the market. The private sector is pushing for the use of ICT. Accountability, however, is more than a side effect here, it is also a motive - according to Melhem governments recognise the need to be accountable at least to the companies they work with.
Some of the successes of eProcurement are stunning. In Karmataka, 20 million land records were computerized at a cost of $4.2 million - the annual savings add up to $ 18.3 million. In Sao Paulo, the investment in an eProcurement system recouped in 5.7 days. Korea's $80 million investment brought $ 2.7 billion in annual savings - and, Melhem says, eradicated corruption in procurement.
eProcurement may be about the most difficult tool of eGovernment in particular and ICTs in development in general. One participant of this morning's presentation rightly pointed out that the tool should first be used in somewhat less sensitive areas. If technologies of accountability are introduced step by step, as political situation and capacity allow, they may well become part of a cultural shift toward more accountability. We have often discussed the need for changing norms in order to reach effective development outcomes. Here's a neat example how ICTs can initiate this culture change.
Picture credit: Flickr user centralasian