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posted on 01.11.2005by R. Paul Sturges
Civil society’s struggle against corruption has as a major element, (alongside the enforcement of the law and structural reform of public institutions), the introduction of transparency in place of the obscurity and secrecy in which corrupt practices thrive. Various levels of corruption can be distinguished from each other. They include the wholesale corruption of politicians, governments, higher administration and the business sector, in which society is made a prey for the personal enrichment of the powerful few. At the other extreme there is the petty corruption of public officials, which may almost be seen as a substitute for proper payment for employment in the public service. This acts as an extra tax or set of fees for services, falling disproportionately on the poorer members of society and disadvantaging them in competition for scarce resources and inadequately funded services. Transparency has many elements: open government, with access to official forums, and institutions that respond to the citizen; freedom of information laws; protection of public interest disclosure (whistleblowing); a free press practising investigative journalism; and a lively civil society sector campaigning for openness of all these kinds. The poor are frequently portrayed as helpless in the face of corruption. Nevertheless, campaigning organisations in developing countries see transparency as an important component of a process of empowering the poor to shake off the burden of illegal financial demands. Various mechanisms including the use of ICTs to introduce greater transparency are being explored. ICTs are democratic media with ease of access, comparative ease of use, great data capacity and the immediacy of swift updating. The poor are, however, also the information poor with limited access to ICT. Means to overcome the difficulties of using ICTs for the benefit of the poor, introduce increased transparency into their dealings with public institutions, and thus weaken the hold of corruption, are being explored in a group of projects in developing countries in a programme managed by OneWorld International.