Why Papua New Guinea turned to SMS to hack corruption

Here’s why UNDP’s whistleblowing project won an award from us.

Papua New Guinea was ranked as the 139th most corrupt country out of 168 countries in 2015. To address the issue of corruption, it turned to low-tech means - gathering whistleblowing reports through text messaging. 87 percent of citizens live in rural areas, and this makes it hard to reach out to them. In 2014, the Department of Finance introduced an anonymous corruption reporting system through phone texts because it was cheap and accessible to the public. To accommodate this, the reporting platform works on basic handsets, is free-of-charge, and eliminates the need for internet. “Phones Against Corruption” offered a safe channel for citizens to report corrupt practices. Reception proved popular - it gathered 29,164 SMSes from 8,827 different users in June this year, UNDP stated. There are 741 cases currently undergoing investigation, with 93.6% of these from provinces and districts in the country. The project is a joint collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and it won the best citizen engagement award at Innovation Labs World for its impact. It was first trailed among 1,200 staff in the Department of Finance, and later engaged six other departments with 25,000 officials participating. “We as Department of Finance are accountable of public money that are going to the different sectors, provinces and districts, and this initiative will help us, at least, to minimize the risk of corruption in the management of public funds”, said Ken Ngangan, Secretary of the DOF, according to UNDP. All reported cases are then passed on to the department’s audit and compliance team, and further investigation will be done with state bodies in charge of criminal investigations and prosecution. UNDP plans to scale the approach to other countries. These include Fiji, Bangladesh, Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands. Innovation Labs World is a festival of public service innovation organised by GovInsider. It was held on 27 September in Singapore.