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Sunday 21 April 2019
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The importance of open data effective governance

In this fact driven decision-making world, access to information is increasingly becoming an essential component for good governance. This is due to the fact that open data enables citizens to access information about government commitments, performance and thus empower them to hold government accountable for their actions. Moreover, government institutions, agencies and ministries need to share data in order to facilitate digital governance, thus reduce tasks or process duplication and significantly reduce costs.
 
In this article, we highlight and explain the concept of open data, and its importance to governance. Furthermore, explain why it’s important for developing countries like Namibia to adopt open data and governance policies.
 
Traditionally, public data and or information has always been made accessible to citizens through printouts such as leaflets, booklets and alike. However, this limited public information to a few individuals who were able collect these booklets from the different government ministries and agencies’ offices. However, the advent of digital technologies has revolutionised how public data or information is curated and disseminated.
 
Open data can be best described as an idea that public data should be readily available for citizens to use, reuse and share without restrictions. An important aspect in this definition is ‘reuse’, implying that the data should be in machine readable format making it possible to be processed by a computer. The baseline of open data is to ease access to public data by publishing the data on portals, thus enable citizens to understand their government dealings and influence decision making.
Though that is the idea, critics of open data portals claim that data portals do not imply that all who have access to the data understand it nor do all who needs the data have access to it. However, the transformative power of mobile technologies such as smartphones has made the mobile devices as the ‘de facto’ communication channel for many Africans. Moreover, this presents unique opportunities leveraging on the power mobile devices to disseminate data and present information through mobile applications.
 
Today, we are increasingly seeing a new dimension of how open data is being innovatively used; especially by young innovators and entrepreneurs to deliver better and improve services both in the public and private sector.
 
When talking about open data and governance, the first thing that comes to mind is transparency and accountability. But releasing public data onto a website or portal will not hold anyone to account neither will it ensure transparency. Only when someone starts using and making sense from the data only then can transparency and accountability happen. Additionally, lead to a greater citizen inclusion and participation in the decision making.
Like in many other countries across the globe, the land sector faces a lot of corruption, unfair allocation and abuse by politicians and their cronies. This has resulted in the unfair distribution, which has left many black Namibians without land. The nature of land administration and allocation decision-making mechanisms worsens corruption by officials, from petty corruption as citizens try to undertake transactions, to major political corruption in land management, such as the illegal sale or lease of state land by public officials to their friends and the connected few.
 
Despite the fact that data and information about land ownership is still relatively closed, local authorities and village councils should make data about land ownership in Namibia is open and freely available for citizens to use and participate in the allocation of land. Thus, make the process is fair, transparent and ensure equal distribution of land in Namibia.
 
Today, our country faces difficult economic times, which has depleted the public purse and resulted in the delay of many capital projects. Data sharing can play a critical role in reducing unnecessary duplication costs incurred by government. For example, we have the ministry of home affairs with systems that contain data of all Namibians. Why should other government ministries and agencies such as ministry of health, ministry of safety, NATIS and alike spend taxpayers’ money to collect the same data? This data is inter-linked and can be maintained from the ministry of home affairs, therefore save government millions of dollars, which can be allocated to education, health and other important projects.
 
However, in order for the sharing of data between systems of government ministries and agencies to become possible, open data and data governance policies become necessary. As they stipulate how such data is shared and clearly highlight the custodian of the data.
 
No doubt, open data is an essential tool to revolutionise governance, therefore make government work for the people. Hence it’s crucial that Namibia adopts open data policies and frameworks now.
 
*Lameck Mbangula Amugongo is country Ambassador of 1 Billion Africa in Namibia. He holds B.IT: Software Engineering, B.Hons: Software Development (Cum Laude) and currently pursuing MSc.Computer Science



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