With spending at an all-time high under Covid-19 conditions, the IDB sees this as a critical enabler for continued funding in the region.
The expanded digital map will enable citizens to monitor government spending in real-time through a digital platform. It also provides a user-friendly channel to submit suggestions and comments, including allegations of wrongdoing.
The new platform will track spending and also enable the roll out of new Covid-19 mitigation projects.
Funded by an initial contribution of US $450,000 from Microsoft, the initiative will leverage the bank’s development expertise and Microsoft’s technological capacity to develop high-impact projects that will enhance transparency and help prevent corruption.
Announced in mid-July at a webinar featuring IDB President Luis Alberto Moreno and Microsoft President Brad Smith, the initiative builds upon previous efforts to support institutional integrity in the region.
“Microsoft was the IDB’s first-ever corporate partner and continues to be a critical ally in our quest for innovative solutions to our region’s most urgent, most complex development challenges,” Moreno said. “As we expand our partnership, we are demonstrating that technology is a fundamental tool for building more transparent societies and helping our governments and citizens access more and better information.”
Microsoft has been supporting digital transformation in Latin America and the Caribbean at an accelerated pace since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic.
In a recent interview, Herbert Lewy, General Manager for Microsoft Caribbean, told Nearshore Americas that the company has seen two years worth of digital transformation in two months.
Lewy said that in the recovery phase, organizations are focusing on taking the lessons they acquired during the outbreak to improve their overall productivity through technology.
The company is also working to bolster transparency in government spending.
“We believe digital technology can work to bring corruption out of the shadows and under the spotlight in a way where it will not survive,” said Microsoft President Brad Smith during the IDB webinar. “By using data and analytics at scale, we can dramatically increase transparency, build better monitoring and flagging systems and empower enforcers to move more quickly.”
In the past three years, 12 countries in the region have formally joined InvestmentMap. The technology has also become a key tool in the IDB’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
With support from Microsoft, the IDB has developed a Covid-19 information module within the platform in Paraguay. It discloses detailed information about the use of public resources to address the emergency.
Similar modules to track coronavirus-related spending are currently being developed in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Honduras and Ecuador.
The IDB and Microsoft have also joined with Everis NTT Data to launch Digi/Gob, an e-government solutions platform developed in the Microsoft Cloud.
Currently in the first phase of development, the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are now able to leverage Digi/Gob to ensure the continuity of administrative procedures and public transactions despite Covid-19’s impact in complicating face-to-face interactions.
Moreno said that Microsoft will contribute US$450,000 annually to the development and maintenance of the map.
“This will allow us to do several high impact projects each year,” he said, adding that the IDB was already using it to track public expenditures.
In Paraguay, Moreno said, the effort has attracted the attention of global anti-corruption bodies. He added that the application helped build trust between people and authorities at a time when public resources are stretched thin.
Upskilling Digital Knowledge
In the webinar, Brad Smith said there was an imperative to communicate digitally and Microsoft’s aim was to work with government and businesses to rapidly adapt to digital processes.
Smith said that Microsoft launched a new project to support digital learning two weeks ago. The company is also in discussion with regional governments to increase the penetration of broadband using television white spots and low-level satellites.
“Wireless technology is always faster and cheaper to deploy than any technology requiring that you put a cable in the ground or wire in the pole… There has been a huge advance in TV white spaces. There is enough of that spectrum available that we can use it for broadband as well,” Smith said during the webinar.
Smith added that Microsoft has been advancing the use of technology in education and health, with new dashboards permitting medical staff to keep track of Covid-19 cases.
According to Smith, telemedicine is also rapidly advancing, with Microsoft developing a chatbot which is now being used in many countries to assess patients in need of testing for Covid-19.
To support the move towards digital communication, Microsoft has also launched a global skilling project to bring digital skilling support to 25 million people.
“We are estimating that we might see 250 million unemployed by the end of 2020,” Smith said, noting that the company was using analytics from LinkedIn for its research.
The company expects there to be 149 million more jobs in data science by 2025. To support this, there will also be opportunities in sales, marketing and customer support.
In the interest of upskilling digital knowledge, Microsoft has introduced free training content on LinkedIn and Microsoft Learn. In the area of certification, it has also reduced the price of tests to US$15.
Moreno said the interventions will address problems with the supply side of digital skills in Latin America.
IDB funding will support these efforts. The bank indicates that the US$2 billion in resources released for Latin America can be directed to countries requesting support for disease monitoring, testing and public health services.
Additional financial aid is expected to follow after studies are completed by the IDB on the mid and long-term economic consequences of the pandemic.
The focus on corruption comes as the IDB also seeks to reduce crime in the region. A 2017 study from the agency estimated that the direct annual cost of crime and violence in Latin America and the Caribbean was up to US$236 billion, or 3% of GDP.
This is roughly what the region invests in infrastructure, and is double the average cost for developed countries, according to the IDB report.