Phone app to outsmart corruption

This is an excerpt of an article published in Mail & Guardian Africa. Click here for the full story.

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DOUGHLAS Buule, a teacher at Kiwenda primary, a government school outside Uganda’s capital Kampala, has a recurring problem.

“The money used to access the chalk comes late, even towards the end of term,” explains Buule. “It is a big burden to keep on writing on a chalk board. So sometimes the head teacher buys chalk on credit or even uses her own money.”

Funds arriving late or going missing altogether also mean the school’s 529 students usually only take exams twice a term instead of monthly, said the teacher.

“There is lack of transparency in many government institutions on the funds that are supplied and used,” said Buule, complaining of the country’s endemic corruption. “That lack of transparency is affecting day-to-day learning.”

But now, a new project is shifting the balance of power.

Through the Action for Transparency (A4T) Smartphone app, being piloted in three Ugandan districts, communities are being armed with information allowing them to report anonymously when budget allocations for health centres and schools fail to match public expenditure.

Using the GPS-enabled A4T app, a user can receive the location of a school or health centre, the number of staff allocated to them by both the government and the institution, and the amount of money approved and dispersed.

If they suspect money is being misused—for example if the government provides funds for an ambulance which then is nowhere to be seen—the user can simply click on the app’s whistle icon to send an instant report to the A4T website and their Facebook page.

“If it is a police case we’ll report it to the police,” said Moses Karatunga, the programme officer for Transparency International (TI) Uganda. “If it’s an advocacy issue we can take it up with the ministry.”

Keeping tabs on the cash flow 

In the past year, Uganda’s corruption rating has deteriorated, according to TI. They are introducing the app along with the Fojo Media Institute, part of Linnaeus University in Sweden, the Uganda Media Development Foundation (UMDF) and the African Centre for Media Excellence (ACME).

Gerald Businge, the A4T project coordinator, said Ugandans feared blowing the whistle on corruption.

“They think they could get sacked, they could get victimised,” he said. “There is also that worry ‘I report and nothing is done.’ So we’re saying ‘take this to the public court’.”

But it’s hoped that through A4T, which has been funded by SIDA, the Swedish International Development Agency, mismanagement of money can be prevented.

“When people know they’re being monitored they’re less likely to squander or misuse money,” said Businge.

 

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