Papua New Guinea: Phones against corruption
Two public officials in Papua New Guinea have been arrested for fund mismanagement of more than 2 million US dollars. Five more are waiting for court decisions, and approximately other 250 cases are being investigated.
Revelation of these perceived corrupt practices was made possible through the new “Phones Against Corruption” initiative, launched by UNDP in partnership with PNG’s Department of Finance in 2014.
The success is significant to Papua New Guinea, where corruption severely impacts and derails country’s development. PNG features 144th out of 175 in Transparency International’s Corruption Index and is in the lowest 15% of countries dealing with corruption according to the World Bank’s Global Governance Corruption Index.
While the abuse of public trust for individual benefit is generally seen as inappropriate, most citizens in PNG do not know where and how to denounce corruption and often fear violent retribution. Effective and safe corruption reporting mechanisms is therefore in need across the country.
UNDP’s ‘Phones Against Corruption’ initiative was launched to meet this important demand, offering a safe space for reporting corrupt practices. In partnership with the Australian and the PNG Government, the initiative introduced a corruption reporting tool based on mobile messaging and has been trialed among 1,200 staff of the Department of Finance (DoF) in 2014.
Reaching more in 2015
Based on the success of 2014, the project has been scaled up to reach more civil servants in 2015. Six new Departments have been incorporated involving approximately 25,000 government officials as first step to incorporate all civil servants. All these staff are established countrywide - provinces & districts - and approximately 35% are female staff. By the end of December 2015, more than 21,753 SMS were received from 6,157 different users.
An independent user experience research carried out by an Australian programme concluded that the Phones against Corruption service is working well and providing a useful service.
“What we’ve found is that users of the text messaging system report it’s easy and quick to use, and they’d be happy to use it again,” said Dr Amanda Watson, Economic and Public Sector Program adviser, who led the research.
Most respondents suggested that they would be willing to use the SMS service again (90%). The confidence level regarding follow-up action by authorities was reasonably high, with three-quarters of respondents (76%) suggesting that they were confident that action would be taken by the relevant authorities, in relation to their corruption report. A full presentation of the study can be found here.
The initiative received interest from Fiji, Bangladesh, Vanuatu and Solomon Island in order to replicate or adapt the system.
How the SMS app works
With the mobile phone penetration rate for PNG now standing at more than 40 percent (International Telecommunication Union, 2014), its mobile broadband rate remains low - at barely 8% (We are Social, 2015). Therefore, instead of a smartphone app, the programme is designed around text messages, or SMS, to maximize the reach of its audience. A SMS system is considered to have the following benefits:
3. Any handset
4. Simple to use
5. English and Tok Pisin (local language)
Here is a walk-through of the simple and easy process of reporting a corruption:
Step 1: Send a Text Message to 16321 with any word, like case or hi...
Step 2: A welcome message appears, asking you to choose your preferred language to report.
Step 3: The system asks you WHERE the alleged case of corruption occurred.
Step 4: The system asks you WHEN did the alleged case of corruption occur.
Step 5: The system asks you if the case involves financial resources or not.
Step 6: The system asks you WHAT is the case.
Step 7: The system thanks you for your contribution and provides a brief feedback of the cases so far.
Why it matters
All reported cases are referred to the DoF’s Internal Audit and Compliance Division for further investigation in collaboration with relevant state bodies responsible for criminal investigations and prosecution.
“We as Department of Finance are accountable for public money that is going to the different sectors, provinces and districts, and this initiative will help us, at least, to minimize the risk of corruption in the management of public funds”, Acting Finance Secretary, Doctor Ken Ngangan, told the Papua New Guinea Today.
The use of simple technology means that corruption reporting can be easier, quicker and more accessible for targeted groups. With support from telecom partners, the tool does not cost users any money or credit to send messages to the system, and does not require internet access either. This has proved to be effective: despite of the fact that most people (87%) live in rural areas of PNG, the initiative reached far and wide: currently, of 741 cases under investigation, 93.6% (694 cases) have been reported from the provinces and districts.
Easily accessible, anonymous and free of charge to the general public, this crowdsourcing approach is ready for scaling up at the national level. Department of Finance will handover this responsibility to the PNG’s Independent Commission Against Corruption in late 2015. In partnership with UNDP, the initiative will be opened to the general public.
The tool has not only created interest in PNG. The Australian-based SMS software provider, Mobimedia, has received requests from Bangladesh, Fiji, and other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, about the effectiveness of this tool in combating corruption for possible replication in those countries in the near future.
Infographics of achievements in 2014
Page last updated: Aug 16, 2016