On the 18th of August, 2015, the GIAT (or Governance, Integrity, Accountability, and Transparency) coalition jointly organized a seminar promoting the values of the Open Government Partnership (OGP). GIAT is composed of numerous non-government organizations including: The Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs (IDEAS), Transparency International Malaysia, Center to Combat Corruption and Cronyism (C4), Sinar Project, Citizen’s Network for a Better Malaysia, and Friends of Kota Damansara.

The OGP is an international platform started by the British government in which governments around the world seek to promote more open and transparent governments.
The aim of this particular seminar was to discuss and promote open data, which has been one of the primary values promoted by the Open Government Partnership.

The Seminar started with a brief welcoming by IDEAS founding Pesident Tunku Zain al-Abidin Tuanku Mukhriz, before ceding the floor for the opening remarks by two distinguished guests of the event, Datuk Paul Low, a Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, and Her Excellency the British High Commissioner Vicky Treadell.

Datuk Paul Low spoke about the concept of open data from the government perspective. He spoke on how GIAT seeks to promote a collaborative effort between civil society and businesses to promote more open and transparent governments. However, he questioned whether the Malaysian public is ‘ready’ for a completely transparent government, and claimed that the Malaysian public might not understand how to utilize the information acquired properly.

HE Vicky, on the other hand, spoke of Britain’s role in promoting the OGP. She stressed that the OGP’s principles have created real, tangible benefits, including a reduction in poverty, more exposure of corruption and faster economic growth. She emphasised that while governments may not always get it right, we should look at initiatives like this as a learning process. She also noted that open data helps empower the people, who can utilise it to make positive changes.

This was followed by the first session, which was moderated by Dr. Loi Kheng Min. The panel dealt with defining open data and how it can be properly utilized. The first speaker was Shreya Basu, who is the Regional Civil Society Coordinator for Asia Pacific. She spoke on how open data fit into the larger framework for the OGP, and talked about the extent of the impact of open data on transparency and accountability.

Next was Antonio Acuna, who spoke about his experiences setting up data.gov.uk, which is an open data portal for the British government. He noted that open data can be considered the ‘currency of transparency,’ and that open data encourages more dialogue between governments and their citizens. One example he used was government procurements, and that in the UK all government awarded contracts are published online in full public disclosure.

Finally, YBhd. Dato Yasmin Mahmood spoke about Malaysia’s experience in promoting open data, and its achievements so far. She noted that Malaysia still lagged behind in open data, as Malaysia ranked 41st in the Open Data Barometer, but pointed out that Malaysia was taking ‘small steps in the right direction.’ She pointed out that data science is a young and growing field, and that it is no longer enough to analyze data and ask ‘what happened?’, but also ‘what will happen?’

The second session focused on open data and its benefits for Malaysian civil society. It was moderated by Jeffrey Phang, a member of Friends of Kota Damansara. The first speaker was Michael Canares, a Regional Research Manager at Open Data Lab Jakarta. Michael spoke about how open data can generally promote better governance, noting that we live in an ‘age of data,’. He argued that the public should use this data to hold their government accountable and used examples such as India, where civil society gathered data and the government made use of it to improve public sanitation.

Khairil Yusof, the head of the Sinar Project, a parliamentary watchdog, spoke next. Khairil showed how open data can be used to promote government accountability in Malaysia itself by displaying the Sinar Project’s current project, which involved linking the financial and business interests of all currently sitting members of parliament.

The second session closed with Cynthia Gabriel, current president of C4 and City Councilwomen for Petaling Jaya. Cynthia spoke about her experiences as a councilwoman, and how many government meetings and decision making still happens behind closed doors. She noted that public knowledge of government plans helped them block unpopular projects, such as building highways through old residential areas. She then referred to a personal project she was involved in, in which local citizens could use specially designed applications to inform their local council about illegal dumping sites and potholes in the roads.

After an hour lunch break, the third session started, moderated by Tricia Yeoh. This session focused on how open data can be beneficial from a business perspective. The first speaker was Sandra Hanchard, the co-founder of Big Data Malaysia. Sandra noted that Malaysia is still slow when it came to realizing the commercial benefits of open data, and that for open data to be more accessible, greater knowledge is required of IP laws. She noted that industries as diverse as the taxi industry to the property market have benefited from utilizing open data. She also spoke on how open data should promote a ‘culture of giving back,’ in which companies who take data from the government should also provide their own research.

Lih Shiun Goh took the floor next. He is the Country Lead for Public Policy and Government Affairs for Google Asia Pacific, and he spoke on how open data can help organizations and develop innovative solutions to long-standing problems. An example he used was health inspectors in New York City who used government data to determine the locations of restaurants that were breaking local health standards. Lih also mentioned that open data is not a new concept, but rather simply that ‘we are getting better at [utilizing it].’

Finally, Divya Desai from GrabTaxi ended the third session with a personal account of how open data helped her team start up GrabTaxi, a successful taxi service company in Southeast Asia. Using knowledge on the concerns of women’s safety, as well as understanding the average daily living wages of taxi drivers, Desai’s team was able to establish taxi services which were both safe and financially fair for both drivers and passengers.

Afterwards came the closing remarks, jointly presented by both Tricia Yeoh of IDEAS, and Dr. KM Loi of the GIAT coalition. They thanked the guests and speakers of their participation for the event and presented the GIAT coalition’s manifesto concerning Open Data. This manifesto included demands that all government information which does not compromise national security should be made public and in an open data format and with little licensing control. These information would include public procurements, government budgets and the incomes and assets of all elected and senior public officials. Finally, that all parliamentary information such as parliamentary proceedings, written replies, attendance records, and expense claims, be made public as well.

Please find the materials distributed during the event below

Open Government Declaration

Open Data Barometer – Global Report – 2nd Edition

Open Government Partnership – 4 year outline 2015-2018

Improving the OGP Experience – Lessons from OGP member countries

What’s in the New OGP National Action Plan

GIAT proposal for Open Data and Open Government

Brochure

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