On Tuesday, the 14th of November 2023, Jelena Joksimović successfully presented her PhD thesis entitled »Patterns discovery in Slovenian public spending: a data-driven approach to corruption detection / Odkrivanje vzorcev porabe javnega denarja v Sloveniji: podatkovno usmerjen pristop odkrivanja korupcije«.

The defence committee consisted of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Biljana Mileva Boshkoska and Assoc. Prof. Dr. Simona Kukovič.

The doctoral thesis was prepared under the supervision of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Zoran Levnajić and co-supervised by Assist. Dr. Bernard Ženko.

Summary of the doctoral thesis:

Corruption is a pervasive societal issue, entailing the misuse of public authority for personal benefits. Traditionally, corruption was estimated via perception surveys, which rely on probing the individuals about their views on corruption rather than directly measuring it. Such assessments encounter challenges in accurately capturing corruption and often diverge from actual corruption levels.

Recent advancements in data collection, spurred by calls for transparency in public institutions and fueled by enhanced computational and storage capabilities, opened unprecedented opportunities for a far more precise analysis of corruptive processes. By quantitatively analyzing concrete datasets, such as transactions between public sector and private companies, contractual documents, public procurement records, bid outcomes, and healthcare product prices, novel avenues emerged for both addressing and predicting corruption. These scientific endeavors aim to discover the best policies to mitigate corruption and rebuild trust in public institutions.

This doctoral dissertation pioneers this novel approach, forging a collaborative partnership with the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption in Slovenia (CPC). Harnessing state-of-the-art data mining, statistical analysis, and machine learning, we analyze a large CPC’s datasets detailing 17 years of public spending on private companies and reported receiving of gifts to public officials. We uncover an array of findings along three research directions:

  1. We reveal the presence of self-organizing principles that govern Slovenian public expenditure. Such mechanisms are usually observed in more orderly (e.g. physical) systems and come across as surprising in this context, where interactions are dominated by human factors.
  2. We construct an interactive framework tailored for CPC’s use. It enables quick identification of suspicious private companies whose revenues from public sources exhibit visible disparities that correlate with changes of the government.
  3. Finally, employing natural language processing, we uncover how seemingly innocent ceremonial gifts can foster favoritism and enable misuse of public positions for personal gains. We illustrate the disparities between the laws regulating gift reporting and the actual practices.

In conclusion, this research contributed: (i) new computational methods for data-driven analysis of corruption, and (ii) better understanding of societal processes that govern public spending in Slovenia. Our work delivers valuable recommendations to governmental, public, and administrative bodies. We hope these insights will bolster the use of transparent public data as the key tool in the fight against corruption.


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