According to the Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary (2010), ‘‘corruption is dishonest or illegal behaviour, especially of people in authority. It is the act or effect of making somebody change from moral to immoral standards of behaviour’’. Corruption generally has changed from being largely caused by low income and is now caused by greed. Society’s values have degenerated to institutionalizing corruption as a way of life, most especial in developing countries where the honest are derided. Some of the reasons why corruption is so prevalent are greed, weak accounting information system, lack of effective monitoring and functioning institutions, lack of human capacity, low remuneration and poverty.
The fight against corruption
Corruption can be said to be a symptom of failed governance and failed governance is a symptom of failed records and information management in any institution. Corruption can be curbed if government institutions or organizations are effectively functioning. However, government institutions cannot effectively function without efficient and effective records and information management, as corruption, fraud and maladministration have the tendency of eating up budgets at all levels of governments. Occasionally, lack of human capacity is compounded with the employment of lack of qualified staff to manage records and information, which gives a leeway to corruption and fraud to thrive.
The easiest ways to identify serious minded individual, organization or government with genuine interest in fighting against corruption is in their resolve to institutionalize and prioritize information management within their organisation or institution as well as their ability to see information as a fundamental resource which should be maintained and enhanced through appropriate information management systems. Organizations and institutions use records to support accountability when they want to prove that they have met their obligations or complied with best practices according to the established policies and standards. Without reliable and authentic documentary evidence underpinning all essential accountability processes, government, civil society and the private sector cannot ensure transparency, guarantee accountability or allow for the exercising of good governance.
Records are an indispensible tool in both internal and external organizational accountability. In other words, records and information can be regarded as the lifeblood of business operations in any organisation. Records and information can assist to show whether an individual, institution or government have met defined legal, enterprise, social or moral obligations in specific situations. Good records and information management specifically plays a significant role in combating corruption in the following ways:
Prevention of corrupt tendencies or fraud
As the saying goes, ‘‘prevention is better than cure’’, resources can actually be saved if corruption is prevented. There is a direct link between lack of proper records and information management practices and corruption; among other root causes of corruption is the failure of government and organizations to institute measures that will ensure that records and information are well managed for the efficient capturing of the day-to-day business operations.
Effective records management practices are essential to ensure that there are no loopholes in the system. Having well managed policies and regulations for transactions and popularizing them within the organization through an organized access system is a good preventive measure against corruption and fraud. The World Bank supports this by asserting that “well managed records and information provide a cost-effective deterrent to fraud and corruption”. To minimize corruption, government and organizations should redirect their focus towards promoting good information management practices as one of the corruption prevention strategies, instead of directing a lot of resources towards investigating and detecting corruption. This would make a significant difference, as there would be fewer corruption and fraud cases to investigate when proper records and information management systems are entrenched within the system. The money that would have gone into investigation, prosecution, recovery of stolen funds and imprisonment would be saved.
Facilitating investigations by anti-corruption agencies
Anti-corruption agencies assigned the responsibility of investigating, detecting and fighting corruption can also benefit greatly from proper records and information management. Unfortunately, despite Government’s efforts directed towards strengthening these institutions, little attention is being paid to the fact that the success of these institutions depends largely on the accessibility to complete, reliable and accurate records / information. Without proper records and information, meaningful audits cannot be executed as the records serve as the source of the information required by the auditors and investigators.
Providing evidence of transactions
When someone is under scrutiny for breaches of systems or regulations, or for fraud, much of the evidence will be provided by the available records and information. Authentic and reliable records can serve as evidence to identify abuse, misuse and non-compliance with financial institutions and other laws and regulations. Records and information provide verifiable evidence of fraud that can lead investigators to the root cause of fraud.
Corruption cannot be wiped out without good records management as a point of reference for evidence of transactions.
Corruption, with its adverse effects, is on the increase in both public and private sectors. Despite the position that without proper records and information management, corruption and fraud cannot be proved, records and information management continues to have limited consideration in most public and private organizations, without which the ongoing war on corruption can never be won. Records and information, helps to prevent corruption and fraud, and as a result must begin to operate with internal and external audits. Good records and information management plays a significant role in deterring the corruption effect and it is a preventive, cost-effective alternative to the prosecution of corrupt and fraudulent individuals.
Finally, records and information management should form an integral part of any country’s economic recovery process. We should note that ‘‘records and information play a critical role in fighting corruption; protecting citizens’ rights; in ensuring transparency; accountability and good governance’’. Governments, organisations and individuals, should recognize the fact that sound and effective information management is the basis for effectively preventing and fighting corruption in any society. Dr. Oyedokun Ayodeji Oyewole is the President/Chairman – Governing Council, Institute of Information Management (IIM) – Africa and President – Records and Information Management Awareness (RIMA) Foundation. He can be contacted at: [email protected]