The Fourth Industrial Revolution continues to change every aspect of society and can be a powerful tool to fight against corruption in South Africa.
South Africa has plenty of open corruption cases, such as the Passenger Rail Agency being investigated for paying millions of rands to more than 3000 ghost workers. Corruption in South Africa is high as it ranked number 72 out of 180 countries, according to the Transparency International 2022 Corruption Perception Index.
This is supported by an Afrobarometer survey that illustrates that 64% of South Africans believe corruption has risen within the country, especially through government officials such as the police force, the president's office, local government councils, and Parliament. Seventy-six percent of South Africans fear reporting on corruption due to being victimised by those in power.
An Advocate, Andy Mothibi, head of the Special Investigating Unit, approached Parliament's standing committee and announced that between April 2020 and June 2021, about R14.8 billion of Covid government expenditure was under investigation for some form of corruption.
Corruption is a serious issue which we need to stop for the following reasons. Firstly, it impedes the country's development as resources that were budgeted for projects that produce basic services, such as schools and hospitals, are pocketed by corrupt officials.
Secondly, corruption fuels the poverty rate within the country by facilitating unequal distribution of resources and draining out funds that could be used for social relief/grants. Lastly, corruption hinders economic growth by discouraging foreign investments, which could have contributed to job creation.
Despite the many efforts to curb corruption within the country, progress is limited as greed has sunk its roots within the political system and civil society. We cannot rely on the morals of politicians and capital to combat corruption! We need technology! South Africa can extract lessons from the Ukraine, which used technology to battle corruption.
Ukraine, like South Africa, has struggled with corruption in its public procurement procedures and tenders. Its public procurement system was often used by corrupt officials who used multimillion-dollar government contracts to gain wealth. Estimates on the lower end of the spectrum suggest that about 20% of all public procurement was wasted due to corruption.
Stakeholders consisting of NGO workers, tech professionals, civil society, and private sector members figured they would adopt technological solutions to curb corruption. This resulted in the creation of an electronic system named ProZorro, to battle corruption in the public procurement process.
ProZorro used open-source software that allowed for the transparency of information pertaining to the planning of tenders until their completion and payment. The general Ukrainian citizen could go on to the internet and assess the fairness of each government contract online.
The ProZorro software would evaluate tenders based on 35 risk indicators, and auditors would promptly investigate any contract of high risk that the software points out. Some estimates document that ProZorro saved the government $1.9 billion (R34.8 billion) within the first two years.
A much improved and efficient system named DoZorro, driven by Artificial Intelligence (AI), was introduced to seek out contracts with high corruption risks. The AI program independently selects and predicts tenders that are likely fraudulent and automatically alerts relevant organisations.
Using DoZorro, 26% of tenders were found to have been through an unfair selection process in a 2018 beta test. With its machine-learning capabilities, DoZorro will only get more efficient in battling corruption. It has been estimated to have caught violations of just over 30 000 tenders in 3 years, valued at $4 billion.
South Africa desperately needs this open-source, transparent technology, as many tenders are currently finalised behind closed doors through nepotism, patronage, favours and bribery. If adopted, these technologies would operate in a transparent nature which would allow all South Africans to go online and observe if suppliers were selected for these tenders through a fair process.
The value of these systems goes far beyond the financial gains of keeping tax money away from thieves. Systems like ProZorro and DoZorro propagate business confidence in the public sector, encourage foreign funding and investment, and facilitate free competition among suppliers.
Corruption impacts everyday citizens, especially the poor. Addressing corruption is important to ensure citizens can access basic services such as health care. Technologies like ProZorro and DoZorro can reduce corruption in South Africa as it has done in Ukraine. Plenty of other 4IR technologies can bring accountability and transparency, restoring public trust in government institutions.
The morality of South African politicians has repeatedly proven unreliable, and these technologically innovative solutions may just be the best solution to battle corruption. South Africa must take action towards a more equal society by battling corruption head-on with 4IR technology.
James Maisiri, is a Non-Resident Research Fellow, Digital Africa Research Unit at the Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg, and a Ph.D. Candidate, UJ.