Picture taken by Mukasiri Sibanda under the PWYP data extractors programme
Without information, it is like suffering a power blackout. Confidence is eroded. We are dependent on power for light, cooking, heating and entertainment among other needs. This blog focuses on why governments must avoid information black outs, a major talking point that helped to kick start the second day of the Africa Open Data Conference #AODC17, currently being held in Accra, Ghana from 17 to 21 July 2017.
The AODC’s theme is “Open data for sustainable development.” Befittingly, the health, education, agriculture and extractive sectors are on hand to discuss how data can contribute to the achieving of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in Africa by 2030. According to the open data hand book “open data is data that can be freely used, re-used and redistributed by anyone – subject only, at most, to the requirement to attribute and sharealike”.
Governments have an obligation to publicly share data. The right to information is a fundamental human right embraced by many progressive Constitutions. Basically, citizens must be able to participate in the formulation and implementation of development plans that affect them. Information, without a doubt, is a catalyst to citizen participation in governance. Citizens have a right to know information such as how government generates, allocates and utilises public resources to deliver public services like health and education.
Corruption is a major challenge in Africa. The costs of corruption are disproportionately felt by the poor. One of the major reasons why corruption thrives is secrecy, lack of information. Through open data, African governments can show their commitment to fight corruption and help to plug the leakage of public resources mainly through corrupt procurement practices. Open contracting is one pathways which governments can use to fight rampant corruption in public procurement of goods and services. In the extractive sector, the Resource Governance Index reveals that countries that have not embraced the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) tend to perform poorly on managing resource wealth for the benefit of their citizens.
Open data can also have a positive effect on efficiency of service delivery. A speaker from Uganda highlighted the benefits that data has brought to the fight against diseases. Data enables the health sector to map some hot spots and to have a fair idea of the resources needed to control disease outbreaks. CSOs can also pressure government to ensure that expenditure is pro-poor if data is public accessible on how governments manages public funds.
Innovation and economic growth can also be spurred by open data. In the mining sector, the Cadastre system, an online platform that has potential to promote efficient management of mining claims by avoiding allocation of one claim to multiple owners. Investors in the mining sector are attracted when they have confidence in the management system of mining claims that is open and transparent. Knowing the quantities and qualities of Africa’s vast mineral wealth fundamental to the negotiation of good contracts that creates better opportunities for domestic resource mobilisation as envisaged by the African Mining Vision (AMV).
Open data alone is not a magic bullet. Data access is the first step to promote accountability. Citizens must demonstrate the ability to use data to hold to account government and business on how their socio-economic rights can be fulfilled. That being the case, civil society campaigns such as Publish What You Pay (PWYP) must be applauded for equipping communities with data literacy skills to demand the change that they want to see on how their resources are managed by government and mining companies.