With this new series, we aim to present the highlights of promising research conducted by Master’s students at the Institute of Public Administration. As we all know, Master’s theses an range from a simple exercise in independent research to interesting and innovative research that often represents the first steps of a young scholar. While we do not claim the findings of such theses take on board all the debates in the scientific community as a PhD thesis is expected to do, we expect their insights and conclusions can inspire new debates.
Today, the first summary of findings offered, is based on a Master’s thesis just defended in our institute, by Nina Straathof. The thesis asks the question whether internet use by governments, in the form of e-participation initiatives, contributes to reduction of corruption. The research uses the United Nations index for e-participation to define (changing) levels of e-government and World Bank good governance indicators (control of corruption) to establish changes in levels of corruption. The relationship between these two should not be expected to be straightforward as the thesis established based on a review of existing literature. Where systems of corruption are linked to political rent seeking, e-participation initiatives are not necessarily contributing to reduction of corruption (Bussell, 2011). Therefore, the student expected that internet use and internet censorship would also matter – if internet is censored, citizens cannot act as government watchdogs.
Conducting several different analyses to establish the relationship between e-government, internet use (World Bank development indicators) and corruption, including various control variables such as GDP and human capital, the author finds that internet use matters more and more for control of corruption, especially in the last ten years. Changes in internet use were found to correlate positively with changes in control of corruption. E-participation, on the other hand, was found to have a negative relationship with control of corruption, especially in countries with low levels of internet use. In other words, internet use was crucial and found to moderate the relationship between e-participation and control of corruption. The last finding in particular is interesting and should be explored further. Does it mean that e-participation and e-services have nothing to do with control of corruption or that, when internet use is low, they somehow become another way of excluding large parts of the public and therefore contribute to perceptions of corruption?