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Bug in the system

The Satyam saga has surely blown this e-governance façade. If computers could help in curbing corrupt practices, how does one explain that Raju, the disgraced founder of Satyam, should be able to forge computerised bank statements, writes Devinder Sharma.

india Updated: Jan 27, 2009 23:26 IST

For years we were told that reliable and accurate information is a precursor to curbing corruption. Bridging the digital divide by extending computerisation is still being promoted as a sure way to fight corruption. The World Bank says it, the UN promotes it, and the business of making corruption history proliferates.

I had always challenged the popular contention. The New Age management gurus, whose jobs are linked to promoting the use and application of technology, would only snigger. E-governance is the buzzword and how can someone dare to question the perceived role computers can play in fighting corruption.

The Satyam saga has surely blown this e-governance façade. If computers could help in curbing corrupt practices, how does one explain that Ramalinga Raju, the disgraced founder of Satyam Computer Services, should be able to forge computerised bank statements to dupe auditors, fake employee numbers to siphon-off money, and divert funds from his company to enter into benami land deals for thousand of acres? And what about the auditors, a part of the global PricewaterhouseCoopers organisation? Were they not using computers?

There is certainly more on the plate than what can be digested. Take the case of land records and property transactions. The computerisation of land records, for instance, which began in 1991, is now being hastened. No one will discount the dire need to computerise land records. But why use the flawed argument of curbing corruption? Bhoomi, Karnataka’s famed model of digital land records, for instance, has failed to check corrupt practices. In fact, it is now becoming easier for land-grabbers and big business to misappropriate electronic data.

The collapse of the financial markets in the United States, which triggered a global economic meltdown, happened under the very watchful eyes of the computer.

I can understand what must have gone wrong when the computer was non-existent at the time of the Great Depression in the 1930s, but still can’t fathom how the 2008 financial collapse took place when everything was computerised. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not against the use of computers, but strongly feel that e-governance and information communication technology (ICT) using to eradicate corruption is not only far fetched but fundamentally flawed.

Devinder Sharma is a New Delhi-based writer