MAKING VAST AMOUNTS OF data available to the public is not enough, and in fact should not be used as a replacement for true accountability.
This was the message delivered by World Bank governance specialist Hanif Rahemtullah during the launch of the Independent Reporting Mechanism’s (IRM) Philippine report for the Open Government Partnership earlier last week. The IRM is a separate mechanism established by the OGP, a network of governments pushing for transparency, in order to assess or evaluate the performance of member-countries in implementing their transparency commitments. The IRM researcher for the Philippines is the PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas.
Rahemtullah told a forum organized during the launch of the IRM report that while the government has made significant strides in the area of transparency, it must make greater efforts to ensure participation and accountability.
“It is important to know that transparency is not enough, it is not a panacea for accountability,” Rahemtullah said. “There must be a mechanism for participation, to support participation.”
Rahemtullah also emphasized the need for a Freedom of Information (FOI) act. However, Rahemtullah stressed that this FOI will only work if it is complemented by a proper cataloging of the data that government has. For example, Rahemtullah said many people would now know what kind of information government has, and what kind of information it is making available. Without this information, Rahemtullah said it would be difficult for ordinary citizens to imagine what kind of information they would ask from the government.
“The FOI, while I think is extremely important, needs to be underpinned by ensuring that people know what government data are actually held by governments themselves,” Rahemtullah said. “If you are to make a request, you must know what data government actually holds. Underpinning this is the need to start cataloging all government data sets so the public knows what types of informati0n the government has.”
In addition, Rahemtullah pointed out that while there is a lot of government data now being made available, a lot of it is “fragmented” and difficult to analyze or correlate. Government must make the data available in an orderly and public-friendly fashion so that ordinary citizens and civil society organizations can access the data and understand the data as well.
“Not everyone will be able to understand the budget in its raw form,” Rahemtullah said. “(How do you) sensitize the public to understand this information?”
“It is not just about releasing all information into the public domain. There is a need to engage CSOs about the types of data that is valuable, and make sure that the information is regularly made available and updated,” he added.
As well, Rahemtullah said it would be good if government can also establish a “policy incentive structure” that would encourage departments to “publish data in a timely manner.” This could take various forms, such as incentives and transparency seals, he said.