"Baksheesh" in Arabic is money offered to crooked officials to get rid of red-tape. And so “NoBakchich” implies “no more bribes.”
That’s the name of a mobile telephone application conceived to primarily run on android mobile handsets, or smartphones. They merge cell or mobile phone technology with e-mail internet applications like e-mail, information searching and social networking.
Its architect is 24-year-old Cameroonian-born Hervé Djia. He and fellow developers have been testing “NoBakchich” since early July. They are planning to formally launch it in August for smartphone users. It will also be made available on an internet website.
“NoBakchich” provides consumers with the latest information on the cost of public service procedures. The only thing users need to do is install the application on their android phones, then click to find out how to obtain services from government departments.
Djia says the idea is based on the belief that public ignorance of the dangers of corruption makes the problem even worse. The software developer adds that if public service consumers get accurate information, the number of people offering money in exchange for services will significantly drop.
Experts blame Cameroon’s endemic corruption on cumbersome procedures for creating businesses, a complex taxation system, various administrative bottlenecks, small salaries, impunity and what they call unpatriotic behavior.
“NoBackchich” users will be furnished details on the cost and steps to set up a business, get a driver’s license, a business license and birth or death certificates, among others. Djia says that way, they won’t fall prey to unscrupulous officials and their middle men who demand bribe to render services.
He is hoping that users will share their experiences through social networking where they can name and shame corrupt officials.
Since July, a local anti-corruption NGO called Un Monde Avenir, or A Future World, has been helping to test the application on 20 business people in the capital, Yaoundé, and economic hub, Douala. The selected individuals regularly use administrative services.
Djia says initial feedback from the trial phase has been encouraging.
However, critics note that smartphones are beyond the reach of most of the country’s 20 million people, the bulk of whom live below the poverty line. Forty-one percent of all Cameroonians have mobile phones, while about a million people are internet users according to the Telecommunications Regulatory Board.
Djia says a reduction in the cost of using mobile telephones and internet access rates will likely boost the use of the application. He is designing another version to run on non-android mobile phones.
The global corruption watchdog Transparency International has often ranked Cameroon along the top tier of corrupt nations.
The country’s taxation, customs, law enforcement, healthcare delivery, judiciary and media sectors have frequently been labeled corruption hotbeds. Over a hundred high-profile statesmen have been arrested and jailed since the government launched an anticorruption crackdown in 2006.
But experts say widespread malpractice has continued to cause huge economic losses to the country as tax revenues and foreign aid end up in private pockets, discouraging investors and slowing growth.
Skeptics argue Cameroon needs a moral revolution to weed out corruption. But Djia believes a thousand-mile journey begins with a first step. He says “NoBakchich” is not a magic potion that will instantly stop corruption, but a contribution towards curbing the problem.