Technology: Jamaica's beacon for a transparent tomorrow

In this age of rapid technological advancement, where digital solutions permeate every corner of our lives, a bright beacon emerges in the battle against a tenacious adversary: corruption. The virtues of technology — transparency, traceability, and resistance to tampering — offer potent tools to curtail spaces that have long been fertile grounds for corrupt practices.

Digital Oversight Systems

In the modern digital age, the judicious application of technology can usher in an era of unparalleled transparency and accountability. Digitisation, when deftly implemented, provides meticulous real-time tracking, diligent monitoring, and comprehensive reporting on the deployment of public funds. This laser-focused oversight makes any misallocations stand out like a sore thumb, facilitating immediate corrective actions.

Take the case of Estonia, a nation that stands tall as a paragon of digital governance. The country, through its e-Estonia platform born out of its 1994 IT development strategy, offers its citizens online portals to access a vast majority of governmental services. This digital window not only streamlines processes, eliminating bureaucratic hurdles, but also carves out a transparent platform that significantly reduces the nooks and crannies where corruption might lurk. On the other side of the globe, South Korea has been making waves with its OPEN system. This initiative empowers its citizens by giving them the ability to monitor the trajectory of their civil applications – be it for permits or licenses. The outcome is twofold: it binds public officers to a standard of fairness while simultaneously slashing the instances of bribery.

So, where does Jamaica fit into this digital tapestry? The roadmap for us is clear. Drawing inspiration from these global benchmarks, Jamaica can roll out a comprehensive e-Government portal. This wouldn't merely be a listing of expenditures. Envision a platform where each financial decision is accompanied by names, exact date and time stamps denoting various approval stages. But it doesn't stop there. Every approval or rejection would be rooted in transparent, consistent, and objective criteria. Such a system would strip away the layers of subjectivity, or even the perception of it, that often taints the interactions between the government and its citizens. The result? A rejuvenated trust in the machinery of governance, underpinned by the impartiality and objectivity that technology can bring to the fore.

Some will argue that NIDS is a necessary precursor to such a system, and this is perhaps a reasonable argument. However, NIDS was born out of a plan to significantly reduce voter fraud, which has since been done through ECJ, and not out of a clearly articulated strategy to create a truly digital society. I submit that a clearly articulated strategy with public buy in is necessary and lacking.

Transparent Procurement Processes

Transparent digital tendering processes for governmental contracts can be the antidote to clandestine, illicit deals, ensuring contracts are awarded on merit rather than connections.

Take Georgia, for instance. Its Electronic Procurement System, built for public procurement tasks, has been a game-changer, ensuring transparency, bolstering competition, and speeding up transactions. Its success is quantifiable, marked by substantial savings and diminished corruption. The OECD, United Nations and Transparency International have all lauded Georgia for the Georgian electronic Government Procurement (Ge-GP) system which was designed, developed and tested within a year. This is what political will looks like. Similarly, India's Government e Marketplace (GeM) offers an open platform for government procurement, ensuring transparency at every turn.

For Jamaica, the path forward could involve crafting a digital platform for government tenders, where every step – from tendering to awarding – is open for all to see and monitor. Of note, in the Ge-GP system, the name of the bidder is not made public until bids are opened. Technology can allow names of bidders to be hidden from even administrators until bidders are shortlisted to remove the opportunity for vested interests to be pre-selected for contracts, as is oftentimes suspected.

Blockchain and Immutable Record Keeping

Blockchain's claim to fame isn't limited to cryptocurrencies. Its inherent transparency and resistance to tampering offer a trustworthy record-keeping system.

The ambitious Dubai Blockchain Strategy aimed to shift all government transactions onto blockchain by 2020, a move poised to drive efficiency, foster digital industries, and gear up the government for future innovations. While it is not clear if their strategy was achieved, it is this kind of big, hairy, audacious goal that will help Jamaica to secure our bhag. Companies including Walmart and UPS integrate blockchain in their logistics tracking systems. Delaware amended its General Corporation Law in 2017 to allow corporations to use blockchain in corporate record keeping.

Jamaica stands to benefit immensely from such innovations. Consider the transformative potential of applying blockchain to land registries, ensuring every property transaction is both transparent and resistant to fraudulent practices. This technology would have potentially saved a few famous attorneys from themselves.

Infusing governance with technology transcends mere efficiency; it's about rekindling trust. The Jamaica we know and love, brimming with promise, rightfully deserves an open, accountable governance system. Through technology, we can sculpt a future where governance isn't just swift, but also above reproach. But it requires a clear vision of what we can become and the political will to get us there.

Omar Newell is a Northwestern Law Juris Doctor graduate. He is the Opposition's Junior Spokesperson for Commerce, Science and Technology and the PNP Candidate for St Mary Central.

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