Tech could beat welfare corruption, experts say

national May 15, 2018 01:00

By PRATCH RUJIVANAROM
THE NATION

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USE OF BLOCKCHAIN, DIGITAL ID AND E-MONEY WOULD HELP ENSURE THE NEEDY GET THEIR ENTITLED BENEFITS, CONFERENCE HEARS



DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES – particularly blockchain, digital ID, and e-money – are being proposed by a research institute as the best sustainable solution for dealing with corruption and other problems in distributing social welfare.

The Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) has suggested the adoption of digital technologies to solve the chronic problem of corruption in the state welfare system. Their recommendation follows an investigation that found government staff unlawfully took the majority of the welfare money destined for those who need financial assistance in 67 out of 77 provinces.

Those at TDRI’s annual public conference held in Bangkok yesterday heard that corrupt officials use a loophole in the current welfare distribution system to benefit themselves. Use of new digital technology would seal these loopholes to ensure those needing special assistance from the state would actually get their welfare, researchers said.

TDRI researcher Boonwara Sumano pointed to two major weak points in the current welfare distribution system: identification of the persons eligible for subsidies, and the delivery of their welfare payments. 

Boonwara said that processes for identifying the target groups of recipients and the appropriate welfare payment were inefficient and vulnerable to corruption. For example, she said, corrupt officials could simply use the national ID numbers of other persons in order to collect the money intended for those who were actually entitled to it. Solving that problem will need going beyond remedial measures already proposed, she said.

“There are suggestions to use bank transfers instead of directly distribute the welfare in cash to the people entitled to the state subsidy,” Boonwara said. “However, this method, though safer and harder to defraud, still has a problem in real implementation: Not all people, especially the poor and marginalised groups of people, have a bank account, with only 81 per cent of Thai citizens owning at least one bank account.”

Boonwara also said bank transfers were not safe from corruption. There were cases of fraud under this method of welfare distribution, as the corrupt officials can simply switch the destination bank accounts to the accounts of their relatives. 

The latest example of this fraud involved the scholarship fund for poor female students, the Educational Fund for Life Development, from which more than Bt88 million was transferred to the bank accounts of corrupt officers and their relatives.

Given the problems with the traditional way for distributing welfare, Suttipong Kanakakorn, a member of the technical working group on national digital ID, suggested the fix lies with the new technologies of blockchain, digital ID, and e-money.

Suttipong said using blockchain would prove more efficient at preventing fraud in welfare distribution, as the information stored in a blockchain system is very easy to inspect and examine by all stakeholders.

Moreover, he said, distributing welfare funds by using e-money would be much easier for the people in need, who could collect the money directly while also spending it on lower-cost goods and services by just scanning a QR Code, using their national ID, or biometric identification.

Suttipong said that since many marginalised groups of people often have neither national ID cards nor bank accounts, digital ID could be adopted as the solution. Relevant agencies could survey and collect biometric information from these citizens and register their digital ID. Then welfare recipients could use their digital ID to receive their payments as e-money and spend it by using their digital ID in cash-free transactions.

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