Check up on gov­ern­ment

South Africans should have easy ac­cess to state in­for­ma­tion, and the data needs to be scru­ti­nised to pro­mote ac­count­abil­ity

Financial Mail - - CIVIC TECHNOLOGY - Kate Fer­reira

SA is be­hind on its com­mit­ments to make “open data” more eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble to its cit­i­zens, de­spite hav­ing signed an un­der­tak­ing to do so.

The term “open data” refers to freely avail­able and sharable pub­lic in­for­ma­tion. The ar­gu­ment be­hind the open data move­ment is that in­for­ma­tion about, for ex­am­ple, ser­vice pro­vi­sion, bud­gets, crime stats and pop­u­la­tion de­mo­graph­ics, must be at hand (and needs to be scru­ti­nised) to pro­mote ac­count­abil­ity and re­spon­sive gov­er­nance.

SA is a sig­na­tory to the Open Gov­ern­ment Dec­la­ra­tion, and has been a found­ing mem­ber of the Open Gov­ern­ment Part­ner­ship since 2011.

The part­ner­ship is a vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion that pro­motes com­mit­ment to open data, and the dec­la­ra­tion calls on mem­bers to “in­crease the avail­abil­ity of in­for­ma­tion about gov­ern­men­tal ac­tiv­i­ties”, “sup­port civic par­tic­i­pa­tion”, “pro­mote ad­min­is­tra­tive in­tegrity”,

“in­crease ac­cess to new tech­nolo­gies for open­ness and ac­count­abil­ity” and

“lead by ex­am­ple” in these en­deav­ours.

The ef­forts are guided by coun­try ac­tion plans, and SA’S is co-or­di­nated by the de­partby ment of pub­lic ser­vice & ad­min­is­tra­tion.

But as Cor­rup­tion Watch re­ported ear­lier this year, SA has made good on just one of the 15 com­mit­ments — es­tab­lish­ing an an­ti­cor­rup­tion hot­line — over two terms. And that hot­line was set up be­fore it signed the dec­la­ra­tion.

SA’S se­cond end-of-term re­port the part­ner­ship found that by the end of 2015 the coun­try had made “sub­stan­tial” progress on three com­mit­ments and “lim­ited” progress on four. As to whether these ef­forts opened up gov­ern­ment, the re­port qual­i­fies the met­rics as “did not change” and “mar­ginal”.

A third na­tional ac­tion plan was launched for the pe­riod up to the end of this year that in­cludes some new and some carry-over com­mit­ments, in­clud­ing “open bud­get­ing”.

So where is SA on the open data jour­ney? What is now avail­able, and how is it be­ing used?

Rich seam or data dump?

The depart­ment runs the SA Na­tional Data Por­tal (data.gov.za), which hosts 409 datasets that range widely in use­ful­ness. The cat­e­gories listed on the first page (such as com­mu­nity and safety, and hu­man set­tle­ments) con­tain no data, but if you click through to “all datasets” you find down­load­able files de­tail­ing in­for­ma­tion about his­tor­i­cal wa­ter qual­ity anal­y­sis, HIV preva­lence, en­ergy ca­pac­ity and so forth.

The Data Show­case page has links worth ex­plor­ing, such as to the work the In­sti­tute for Se­cu­rity Stud­ies has done in an at­tempt to map crime in­for­ma­tion (is­safrica.org/crime­hub).

Open fi­nances

Na­tional trea­sury’s Mu­nic­i­pal Money plat­form (mu­nic­i­pal­money.gov.za) is a good start­ing point for peo­ple who are not data an­a­lysts. It pro­vides break­downs of in­for­ma­tion about mu­nic­i­pal spend­ing and au­dit find­ings. For ex­am­ple, the Great Kei mu­nic­i­pal­ity in the East­ern Cape had cash cov­er­age for only six days be­tween July 2015 and June 2016 and spent just 0.87% of its main­te­nance bud­get. Its “unau­tho­rised, ir­reg­u­lar, fruit­less and waste­ful ex­pen­di­ture as a per­cent­age of op­er­at­ing ex­pen­di­ture” the year be­fore (2014/2015) was over 23%.

The site pro­vides break­downs on how a mu­nic­i­pal­ity gets its money (rates and taxes ver­sus gov­ern­ment pro­vi­sion) and where it spends it (cat­e­gories). Each met­ric is ac­com­pa­nied with an ex­pla­na­tion.

A more ad­vanced or con­fi­dent

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