Before delving further into the article, e-governance or e-government is defined as the use of ICT (Information and Communication Technology) to provide information to citizens and to connect citizens and government. E-governance has gained popularity in recent years, with many countries resorting to ICTs to modernise government, increase efficiency and improve public service delivery.
The above statement was a refreshing acknowledgement of the depth of the problem by the President as Zimbabwe continues to struggle with systemic corruption. In the same breath, the President also pointed out that part of the solution lies in ICT and in particular e-governance. This was significant as it signals a fresh approach which targets the utilisation of technological advancements to fight some of the social ills.
The President rightly pointed out that corruption is probably the most prevalent and persistent challenge Zimbabwe is facing in enhancing economic growth and improving the quality of life. The World Bank’s 2011 guide identifies corruption as “one of the single greatest obstacles to economic and social development”. It involves the misuse of public power, office or authority for private benefit through bribery, extortion, influence peddling, nepotism, fraud or embezzlement. Evidence is beginning to emerge of corrupt activities that have contributed to the economic challenges Zimbabwe is facing, as some of the culprits are now being exposed or arrested.
Corrupt activities by individuals and companies contribute to a rise in public expenditure and reduction in the amount of tax received by governments, thus less money is available for essential government services. Zimbabwe has not been spared, with such activities having had the adverse effect of discouraging investment, limiting economic growth and retarding improvement in the quality of life for the rural and poor segments of the country. Corruption led to mistrust between Zimbabwean citizens and public officials with the traffic police being cited as the most unprincipled. The wealth exhibited by some public officials, exemplified by the ownership of asserts which are disproportionate to their official sources of income, have further put a wedge between public servants and the general public.
Corruption in Zimbabwe has been fueled by a number of issues. The monopoly of power, where public officials have absolute authority to enforce regulations and policies is one such factor. Other drivers include the misuse of the power of discretion, lack of accountability and transparency. Although the cases of corruption in Zimbabwe which have been publicized so far have involved abuse of public power for private benefit, it goes without saying that it is also prevalent in the private sector, where for example issues in procurement and hiring have been highlighted in allegations surrounding a local businessman and a parastatal. It is hoped the government will continue to pursue such cases and bring the perpetrators to justice.
The fight against corruption in Zimbabwe has taken different forms such as the establishment of anti-graft agencies like the Zimbabwe Anti-Corruption Commission (ZACC) and the waging of massive campaigns against corruption by other governmental agencies. Despite these measures by government, the corruption virus strain keeps spreading. In this respect, the proposal and intention to fight this scourge using Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) tools, in particular e-governance by the President, has to be applauded as this can be an effective tool to increase transparency and combat corruption.
E-governance makes face-to-face interactions between government and citizens unnecessary through online communication. The contents and procedures of all work are disclosed, and the administrative agency responds to questions and inquiries of the complainants through online channels; reducing the possibility of unfair treatment (or corruption) by public officials. The entire tax system for example, must be restructured with the specific purpose of reducing direct contact between citizens and tax officials to reduce opportunities for requests for bribes.
E-governance can reduce the need for citizens to use bribes to obtain information by making essential information publicly available. The President has highlighted the importance of transparency and accountability in his New Year message: “I urge you fellow Zimbabweans to engage with Government, its institutions and agencies for more transparent, just, accountable and responsible governance. Let us equally commit to honesty, transparency, accountability and discipline to ensure accelerated national development and progress.”
Corruption is often caused by competition restrictions and information monopolies. The Herald 01/01/2018 pointed out how corruption in procurement has manifested: “It is believed that Government has been losing public funds through inefficient and ineffective procurement processes, which often resulted in the acquisition of sub-standard goods. In some instances, procurement officers have been accused of inflating the cost of goods and services.”
The effects of corruption control through competition can be significant, especially in government procurement. The implementation of e-procurement has been prioritised by the government as reflected in the statement by Ambassador Chidyausiku after the dissolution of the State Procurement Board: “There will be a new authority with new faces, which is expected to bring the much-needed efficiency and technology such as e-procurement.”
The e-governance's disclosure of information will make it possible to compete fairly. It will provide an environment in which all private operators participate in open competition in procurement contracts. Fair distribution of information will suppress corruption by eliminating opportunities for officials in charge to provide beneficial information to specific operators or to apply special criteria. E-procurement will also prevent price fixing in addition to providing transparency and accountability.
The government faces a lot of challenges in implementing e-governance. At the heart of these is poor ICT infrastructure. The development of a robust ICT infrastructure is a requirement for successful e-governance implementation in which the government should play a leading role. It should create an enabling environment for the adoption of ICT in everyday lives of citizens as a starting point of e-governance. Policies should be developed that aim to improve penetration, increase uptake and bridge the digital divide. Internet diffusion is still low due to the fact that local phone calls are expensive. The telecommunications infrastructure is still inaccessible to most parts of Zimbabwe. In places where it is accessible, cost is usually a barrier.
Lack of computer literacy among the citizens, businesses, and government sectors themselves has been proven to be a barrier in implementing e-governance. A lot of training and capacity building will be required in both government institutions and the general public. The majority of those who have ICT skills are young citizens thus the elders might be left out in adopting e-governance.
It is however acknowledged that e-governance in itself is not a silver bullet in the fight against corruption. Corruption and accountability involve complex economic, cultural, and governance issues. It is the summation of the various approaches that makes up the ethical infrastructure that we must all reaffirm commitment to preserving. The President’s resolve to eliminate corruption has been unwavering and e-governance with the right implementation can make a huge difference in eliminating this evil vice from the Zimbabwean society.