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The Revolution of Online Corruption Reporting in Africa: Will it Work?

David Munyakei is a hero who has been unsung in the annals of Kenya’s history. When the Goldenberg scandal broke, Munyakei came out as a brave man for blowing the whistle on Kenya’s greatest corruption story to date. Munyakei worked at the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) and his evidence was key to bringing the scandal to the fore.

Fourteen years after his revelations were made to the authorities, Munyakei’s quality of life had dwindled. He was known for what he had done and had been fired from the CBK. He saw victimization from the powers that be at that time, and in 2006 Munyakei died a miserable and poor man.

Corruption has been rife since then and whistleblowers have been discouraged after seeing Munyakei’s life fizzle away.

In Kenya, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that he would be setting up a website that would allow the public to report anonymously on government corruption. Months later, the site went online, but with little buzz.

“All you (members of the public) will be required to do is log in, there will be a place where you will record the name, ministry alongside department and position of the corrupt official to get them arrested,” said the president.

Several attempts have been made in the past to make corruption reporting anonymous to encourage whistleblowers to come out. But the digital way is probably the most appropriate method to give information to the authorities without jeopardizing the life of the reporter.

 I PAID A BRIBE, a Kenyan initiative to have Kenyans report on bribing incidences has borne no fruit. The platform is active and Kenyans keep on reporting the bribery incidences but there is little action.

Last October, the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) announced that plans are underway to set up an anonymous reporting tool on its website. This will try and capture those companies or individuals engaging in tax evasion, smuggling of goods, unreported income and diversion of taxable goods.

According to the Business Daily, the site will enable users to report anonymously on what they think is bad practice.

“Once a whistleblower reports a crime, either on the website or through their phones, they will be assigned a code that will be the only way to identify them and the information they gave,” said Tobias K’onyango, the head of KRA’s integrity programme. “At no point during the reporting process will a person’s details be known, even on KRA’s end.” 

The tax body has since then placed a request for expression of interest on what it terms, Anonymous Web-based Intelligence Gathering System (AWIGS).

Despite all these good intentions, many people still a wonder if the government is serious about using the information coming out of these online tools. But the real, serious question is: how safe are these reporting platforms for Kenyans?

The Problem: Online Hacking on the Rise

In the recent past, government officials in Kenya have been on the receiving end of endless email and private data breaches. The latest of these incidences was witnessed when Chief Justice Willy Mutunga claimed that his email and twitter account were hacked and confidential information made public.

The International Criminal Court had also alleged that Kenyan blogger, Dennis Itumbi, had hacked into the servers and released information on the witnesses that were lined up for the cases against the Kenyan president and his deputy for crimes against humanity, brought about by the post-election violence in 2007.

If this is the case, where the government’s online property can be easily breached: what will happen to the whistleblowers when their covers are unveiled and they are intimidated?

Just like the site that will be set up by the Kenya Revenue Authority, most of these initiatives have resulted in the use of guest names or codes to cover the identity of the reporter. But this is not enough. Everyone knows that internet protocol for computers and phones can be traced with the right technology.

The Solution: Adopting New Technology

New companies are sprouting up to bridge this gap. One company that has delved into this space is South African firm FraudCracker.

FraudCracker is an online platform that enables whistleblowers to report incidences of corruption and fraud within a company space.

“The big problem is that most fraud reporting mechanism doesn’t work because employees don’t want to come forward to report the fraud that they witness because they know that they can be identified and it becomes risky,” Dr. Gavin Symanowitz the Managing Director of FraudCracker told IDG Connect.

The platform also has a way of rewarding those who share critical information on the platform. This will boost the esteem of those reporting the crime.

Such systems are usually susceptible to misuse. But developers need to think ahead on how they can verify the information that comes to them. This might include having the option of uploading evidence of the alleged crime as FraudCracker allows.

Highlighting cases that have been handled through such systems will also build confidence in whistleblowers to come out and report suspicious incidences.

Tightening Security Weaknesses

The biggest work for governments aiming to use these online tools is to create a secure system that will be monitored in cases of attempted breach. This might include hiring high-end professionals to ensure the confidentiality of the users.

If the online tools are taken seriously enough by the government, then the citizens will feel confident in using the various available means to fight corruption.

The Kenyan government and their bodies need to rethink the systems they use to report crime and corruption within itself. Because without the right technology and digital security, all they will be doing is filling a rat hole with fresh bread.

 

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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Vincent Matinde

Vincent Matinde is an international IT Journalist highlighting African innovations in the technology scene.

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