Singapore is using artificial intelligence to identify and prevent against potential corruption in government, GovInsider can reveal.

A tool built by the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) alerts officials to suppliers and employees involved in suspicious deals.

The AI algorithms analyse HR and finance data, procurement requests, tender approvals and workflows to pick up patterns. “For example, it can highlight names of individuals or employees who have been purchasing certain types of equipment regularly,” Dr John Kan, CIO of A*STAR told GovInsider.

It also looks at non-financial data, like government employees’ family members and vendor employees. “It helps to correlate names of individuals and employees of the company – say family members – correlating against names of suppliers, directors of suppliers – that kind of thing,” Kan added.

The government wants to identify potentially corrupt or negligent officials before the cases escalate in public. “The painpoint was really to make sure we don’t get these procurement lapses highlighted in newspapers,” he said.

The Singapore Auditor General’s report in 2013 found that “procurement has continued to be an area prone to lapses”. Last year, contracts worth over $20 million for Gardens by the Bay were awarded without open tenders, it found. This “breached the government procurement principle of open and fair competition”, it added.

A*STAR has been using the tool for a year now, Kan said, running it every month and quarter. The agency buys expensive chemicals and research equipment, and a slip could cost it a great deal. “We have to make sure that we are managing it well, that we are good custodians of taxpayers’ money,” Kan said.

The government has been trialling the system with four other agencies for the last three months. The trial will go on for another three months, he said.

The same tool can be used outside of government, such as in casinos and banks, he added. A*STAR is making it available to small and medium businesses first. “[We] are deploying it to potential system integrator partners to help the local companies in Singapore to have a leg up,” he said.

The agency sees this as a way to improve the system with the private sector. It is providing grants to companies to develop the user interface and connect with data management systems built by other vendors.

This article is published as part of GovInsider’s predictive services week

Image by Ryan Shea, licensed under CC BY 2.0