How to get around our cultural propensity for tampering with records

Hope lies in deploying blockchain technology throughout the public sector.

 

IN SUMMARY

  • If a government agency can randomly choose what to hide or share with the public then we indeed have a long way to go in terms of transparency practices.
  • Blockchain technology has a deeper implication for emerging economies where trust in public authorities is at its lowest.
  • Record keeping has never been our thing and when it is, we tend to do it with an intention to leave gaps for exploitation.

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Business Daily made a sensitive revelation about the controversial construction that is allegedly encroaching on a public beach in Mombasa.

They discovered from the Nema website that the construction had been approved by the regulatory agency, Nema under the application number NEMA/EIA/PSR/6347. A few days later, Business Daily reported that the record had been removed from the website.

Such a move does raise quite some pertinent questions.

First and foremost is the issue of public trust. If a government agency can randomly choose what to hide or share with the public then we indeed have a long way to go in terms of transparency practices.

Secondly, one would wonder whether the practice to delete website content goes deeper and includes the power to actually delete or tamper with the various source records under the jurisdiction of Nema.

SWEEPING POWERS

Finally, we must also wonder how many other government agencies are enjoying and exploiting such sweeping powers.

Perhaps we should not wonder since cases of files or records getting lost or tweaked are common in judiciary, police, lands, universities, power and water companies.

Pretty much anywhere where the public must trust some appointed authority, there is huge potential for disappointment as the trusted authority choses to behave otherwise.

BLOCKCHAIN TECHNOLOGY

But there is hope. That hope lies in deploying Blockchain technology through out the public sector.

Whereas Blockchain technology is famous for bringing forth the Bitcoin or Crypto currency phenomena, it has a deeper implication for emerging economies where trust in public authorities is at its lowest.

This is because by design, Blockchain Tech presumes a very un-trustworthy environment and proceeds to build solutions that can overcome the trust deficit.

With Blockchain, transactional records are stored on chunks of fixed sized blocks, with each current block being hard-wired to a previous block in a very secure and encrypted manner.

The records form an immutable or tamper-proof chain of records that are impossible to manipulate. Essentially, the technology allows the public entity the capacity to add records, while denying them the capacity to change them.
Of course in case of errors or mistakes, the public entity can initiate a new record invalidating the previous record but the blockchain will keep both entries for future referencing or audits.

Someone once commented that Blockchain was a technology prescribed for African problems and it is easy to see why.

WRITTEN TEXT

Except for Ethiopians and Egyptians, we have mostly been an oral society with little or no culture of written text.

So record keeping has never been our thing and when it is, we tend to do it with an intention to leave gaps for exploitation.

That is why even after digitizing our public finance with Ifmis, we still managed to pinch some hefty sums from the public coffers in two quick successions of NYS-1 and NYS-2.

That is why the Ruaraka land saga, the mercury sugar saga and many other upcoming sagas will continue to haunt us for as long as the respective appointed authorities retain the power to tamper with source records.

It is time to seriously consider moving our public record keeping onto the new Blockchain platforms and secure our records accordingly.

Mr Walubengo is a lecturer at Multimedia University of Kenya, Faculty of Computing and IT. Email: jwalubengo@mmu.ac.ke, Twitter: @Jwalu

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