Will technology boost the fight against corruption in the Post-Soviet region?
Having come across the recent UNDP study on the role of social media for enhancing public transparency and accountability in Eastern Europe (download here), one cannot help feeling optimistic about the potential to raise the level of civic empowerment and to fight corruption in the post-Soviet countries.
Looks like the Transparency Works event jointly organized by the Sunlight Foundation and Transparency International comes at the right time in the right place. The first ever in Lithuania transparency camp-like event will take place on 29 – 30 March in Vilnius.
Why Lithuania, the country which is considered to be among anti-corruption champions in the post-Soviet region but at the same time is only an average performer on the global scale (ranked 50th with the score of 4.8 at the Corruption Perception Index by Transparency International)?
The abovementioned UNDP study came up with a number of interesting and somewhat rationalizing figures.
Lithuania is among the leading countries in the world in terms of the Internet usage. It is leading in deploying fiber-optic Internet access (FTTH) technologies with the fastest rate in Europe and sixth on the global ranking. Around 70% of the households have Internet connection. Evidently, the high levels of Internet penetration did not massively help with Corruption Perception. There is clear potential to better use the information and communication technologies to increase the public transparency and encourage e-participation in the country.
Lithuania is ranked 29th in the UN e-government survey 2012 – one position lower than in 2010. The main aspect pulling the score down is the fact that only a small number of citizens use e-services. While one can argue about whether demand or supply should come first, an open government that is willing to increase public transparency ideally should do more to pro-actively promote e-services.
The ability to distinguish between objective data and speculative information on mainstream commercial TV, radio and newspapers can significantly improve the corruption perception index. Therefore, the information collected by the civil society should be available to the wider population.
So, what do these figures suggest? There is not a lot of room to improve the Internet penetration in Lithuania and the region. However, a lot can be done with educating the government and the society about the benefits of e-participation. While the ideas of open government data (OGD) and e-democracy have gained momentum in most developed countries, the expansion of the movement to the post-Soviet space has been slow and fragmented.
Why is it important that e-democracy becomes topical in the region? Freely accessible data is becoming a must for transparent and accountable states and their institutions. Data presentation online is inherent to its publicity. It is important to identify the local communities that can constantly come up with ideas on how to achieve greater government transparency and increase civic participation in public decision-making. Such multi-stakeholder communities could more than ever contribute to a further democratization of the post-Soviet region.
The Transparency Works event will for the first time in Lithuania bring together international IT developers, think tanks and civil society actors, online marketing specialists, journalists, government officials, students, academics and others to share their experience and knowledge about how to use new technology to make the government really work for the people and contribute to greater transparency, accountability and citizen engagement in the region and beyond.
While a lot of events of this kind tend to be the place to hack and meet your fellow OGD geeks, the Transparency Works event will attempt to have the full palette of stakeholders present. Hopefully, this will serve as a qualitative attempt to spread the word about e-democracy and lay a fertile ground for open government data ideas to grow in Lithuania and the post-Soviet region.
The deadline for the registration for the Transparency Works event is 26th March at www.transparencyworks.lt/register/