By Adheele Tuulas
From the depths of complacency, the events of 2020 surfaced the true impact of ongoing social problems in the face of a crisis. The fresh findings of the Transparency International (TI) Corruption Perception Index 2020 (CPI), suggest that despite a steady pace of progress, the age-old problem of corruption has worryingly infected even the global response to COVID-19, and continues to contribute to the crisis of democracy.
Recognising corruption as a multi-faceted and complex problem, it becomes clear that we need innovative solutions – such as the deployment of digital tools – to empower stakeholders in their continuing fight against corruption.
A successful example of this approach lies in e-Governance Academy’s (eGA) recent collaboration with the Moldovan NGO Centre of Policies and Reforms (CPR Moldova) and the resulting anti-corruption platform, AntiCorr.
A conscious decision to empower citizens
The story of AntiCorr dates back to 2017, when eGA conducted a study on the state of e-democracy development and cybersecurity in Eastern Partnership countries. The survey identified core challenges in the field, but also the NGOs with the potential to help solve them.
For Moldova, the key problem undermining its path of democratic development evidently appeared to be corruption – from its high-level manifestations to rather petty forms, affecting the everyday lives of ordinary people. The country’s struggle with corruption also translates into its relative position in world charts on the topic. According to the 2020 CPI, Moldova ranks 115 out of 180 countries with a score of 34/100 (with 100 indicating very clean and 0 indicating highly corrupt).
Photo: The Corruption Perceptions Index, screenshot from transparency.org
Yet, Kristina Reinsalu, Programme Director of e-Democracy at eGA and manager of Anticorr project, notes that for many countries, like Moldova, the top-down legislative framework has already been established. The country has also adopted an anti-corruption strategy, which determines levels of responsibility in combatting the issue besides public authorities also to NGOs and the media too.
But the work of these actors is complicated due to the limited tools at their disposal, and corruption persists despite this legislative framework. The project team was thereby led to the decision to empower the population with more bottom-up processes. Joining forces with CPR Moldova, the aim of the project geared towards raising awareness of corruption at all levels of society and encouraging greater activity to confront the problem.
Introducing AntiCorr: The Digital Response
Photo: AntiCorr platform, screenshot of the web-page faracoruptie.md/en
The resulting web-platform, AntiCorr, has two functionalities. The first responds to the mission of education and awareness raising. AntiCorr enables users to learn and develop their perception for corruption-prone situations, as well as test their knowledge on different types of corruption and their characteristics. The second functionality builds on the first and encourages people to get engaged with active reporting on concrete cases of potential corruption.
Given the complexity of the problem, it is challenging to build a solution that takes care of all layers of corruption at once. Reinsalu explains that the aim of the project was not to tackle grand-scale corruption but rather help shed light on the everyday cases. “Sometimes these are not even considered significant, yet they pile up,” she observes.
But within the baseline layer of smaller scale corruption, the mission is to reach and provide value for different categories of stakeholders:
- Communities and activists, who can use the incoming reports to confront authorities
- Businesses, who are looking to prevent corruption and bureaucracy
- Wider public and individuals, who lack awareness of different types of corruption and the ways in which to counter it.
Digital tools have the added benefit of greater accessibility for all stakeholders. The engagement of a wider audience helps strengthen ties between citizens and civil society actors, responding to the initial goal of encouraging change from the side of the population.
Striving for trust and accountability
Turning to the unravelling impact of the project, Reinsalu shares that AntiCorr has already seen increasing adoption by various stakeholders. “One of the ideas was that the platform could provide input and thereby feed into further anti-corruption activities of the Moldovan civil society. Based on the reports, we can detect what are the priority topics for citizens,” she explains.
The crowdsourced input not only enables acting on reported cases and detecting areas of concern, but also helps identify the specific stakeholders that may require additional support. “One very important topic in Moldova seems to be business integrity,” Reinsalu highlights. These insights help inform targeted intervention with greater efficiency. For example, CPR Moldova have now launched several activities to educate newly founded companies and young entrepreneurs on the meaning of honest business.
Photo: The launching event of AntiCorr platform
Where top-down institutional frameworks are not enough, solutions such as AntiCorr are helping disentangle the complex webs of corruption from grassroot levels. By increasing transparency and equipping the population with the necessary resources, AntiCorr and its surrounding activities are contributing to a bottom-up cultural change.
Trust is easy to break and takes time to rebuild. Exposing and disincentivising normalised corrupt practices can bring society one step closer to achieving accountability in democratic systems. Empowering the population when those systems have not yet fully developed is one way to break the chains of silence and complicity, and start rebuilding greater institutional trust.
Listen to the podcast “Digital tools in the global battle against corruption” featured Kristina Reinsalu, eGA and Carina Oja, Transparency International in Estonia or read the blog.