56% of Afghans say that corruption and bribery are a bigger problem than jobs and security. 23% of Afghan’s GDP disappeared into bribery. But Roshan Afghanistan found a technology solution.
Podcast: Shainoor Khoja talks about paying police using voice recognition and mobile payments over their cell phones, and uncovering the extent of fraud and corruption in Afghanistan. Finally, a worker’s pay can’t be stolen by the boss, and they don’t get mugged as they walk out of the police barracks with a stack of cash every payday. Corruption is the real battlefront in Afghanistan and unless the state department pushes this kind of technology-aided efficiency throughout, security won’t matter.
Excerpts (MP3 transcript):
In Afghanistan 59% of the population complain that bribes and corruption are a bigger problem than jobs and security.
23% of Afghanistan’s GDP last year was lost in bribes.
What happens when a police officer gets his money in full, can support his family, and send his children to school and put food on the table. Will he value his job? That is the question we ask.
97% of population is unbanked. We (Roshan Telecom) did salary disbursement for corporations, the police, and NGOs.
So no longer did anyone need to carry large amounts of cash to to the office to pay employees. This avoided the problem of employees getting shaken up as soon as they left with their paychecks in hand. [Now payments were delivered as credits via mobile phone]
What we found:
- Police officers were happy and could receive the money
- Led to transparency about corruption – 10-15% of salaries were being disbursed to ghost accounts.
- Police officers would phoning our call center to thank us for the pay raise. “I got a 30% pay raise!”
What’s not in the talk: I overheard later at the tech@state conference, is that this mobile payment system was too effective. Officials in the Afghan government shut it down. Police are now fighting to reinstate it.
This is disruptive innovation. Everyone likes to talk about innovation, but institutions are seldom prepared to accept change. Officials in the Afghan government are clearly not interested in seeing the corruption end. And the US government at the time was determined to “fix Afghanistan” as quickly as possible and leave. That attitude does not foster innovation, thoughtfulness, or systemic change.
TED Fellow Eric Berlow found that a network analysis of the Afghanistan conflict boiled down to two problems:
Engagement with ethnic rivalries and religious beliefs
fair, transparent economic development
This Roshan mobile payment experiment would have addressed problem #2 directly. It is a shame the US Government couldn’t recognize that fighting corruption is at the core of their exit strategy.