Want a Digital Nation – Don’t be a Corrupt Nation

Every country and enterprise globally aspires to be a digital leader. Digital is hard to define and measure and is far from mature. As a result, potential has not been fulfilled for both the public and private sector. Of course, there have been some brilliant examples of digital engagement for citizens, and the public and private sector. The likes of Estonia, Singapore, Amazon, Burberry and others set a high bar that many are working to raise.

What makes a digital economy? There are of course as many opinions as there are opinion pieces on this. There are many innovation measures such as education, access to investment capital, broadband investment, private-public partnership that contribute to the success of digital at a national government level.

One factor that has been surprisingly overlooked is the link between the levels of corruption and Digital. Corrupt countries are not digital leaders. Non-corrupt countries are digital leaders. It is as simple as that. 

One of my favourite pieces of regular analysis is the Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index. It looks at global levels of corruption from the least corrupt to the most. Not surprisingly, North Korea is at the tail of the rankings. It is also no surprise that Denmark and New Zealand lead the list of the least corrupt countries.

The top 10 ranking for corruption according to TI is as follows. (Note – Scandanavia dominates, aside from weather, they have societal wellbeing sorted on most measures)

  • Denmark and New Zealand
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • Switzerland
  • Norway
  • Singapore
  • Netherlands
  • Canada
  • Germany, Luxembourg, United Kingdom

There is no real surprise with the ranking for these countries. For the record, Australia is 13th, Hong Kong 15, the US 18th, and Japan 20th.

Whilst measures of digital excellence are more subjective, and unlike the Transparency Index obviously do not have a strong historical quantitative analysis available, even at first glance, it is obvious that there is a positive correlation between digital and economic excellence and freedom and corruption. Correlation, of course, needs to be fully understood. Not all positive correlations are cause or effect. They can be a coincidence of course (see http://www.tylervigen.com/spurious-correlations – never swim and watch Nicholas Cage films).

So what countries have digital excellence. In order to have some similar credibility to the analysis, lets use the United Nations ranking of E-Government Development from 2016. (https://publicadministration.un.org/egovkb/en-us/Reports/UN-E-Government-Survey-2016)

The top 10 ranked countries for E-Government Development are

  • United Kingdom
  • Australia
  • South Korea
  • Singapore
  • Finland
  • Sweden
  • Netherlands
  • New Zealand
  • Denmark
  • France

Six nations appear in the top 10 for both lists. The remaining 4 are all ranked in the top 23 (France), highly with the exception of South Korea. Other measures have Singapore at number one, or Estonia. It is obvious at a qualitative and quantitative level that the corruption in a country is a key indicator of digital performance at the citizen,  public and private sector level.

South Korea is an anomaly. It ranks at number 52 in the TI index. The business structure is one that is tied to both very successful economic development, but also significant corruption. The former head of Samsung is serving a prison term for corruption and the former president is set to join him. 

Of course, it is churlish, almost offensive, to mark down countries that face significant corruption for their level of digital services. Provision of basic services for citizens is a challenge for these countries, let alone investments in Digital services delivery. This is a real issue. Digital solutions, particularly around payments, mobility and services access provide significant benefits in countries with marginal economic strength. Unfortunately the levels of corruption from contracting to construction ensure that this is unable to successfully reach citizen service delivery.

Capture Point

Simply if you want to be a digital economy do not be a corrupt country. Economic transparency also dictates that if you want to be a country relatively free from corruption be a digital one. There is no other choice.