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NEW PUBLICATION – OPEN DATA AND THE FIGHT AGAINST CORRUPTION

On 22 November 2018 Transparency International Latvia, in collaboration with Open Knowledge Sweden and Open Knowledge Finland  has published a new study on open data and anti-corruption policies in Latvia, Sweden and Finland, showing that governments in the three countries could do more to leverage the potential of open data for anti-corruption policies and public accountability. The study is the outcome of a project “Open data against corruption” funded by the Nordic Council of Ministers.

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The study comprises an overview report summarising the overall findings and identifying opportunities for knowledge transfer and regional cooperation as well as specific reports assessing to what extent governments in Latvia, Sweden and Finland have implemented internationally agreed-upon open data principles as part of their anti-corruption regime, providing recommendations for further improvement at the national level.

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The aim of the project was to gain a better understanding of how Nordic and Baltic countries are performing in terms of integration of anti-corruption and open data agendas, in order to identify opportunities for knowledge transfer and promote further Nordic cooperation in this field. The study assessed whether 10 key anti-corruption datasets in Latvia, Finland and Sweden are in line with international open data standards. The datasets considered in the frame of the study are:

1) Lobbying register,

2) Company register,

3) Beneficial ownership register,

4) Public officials’ directories,

5) Government Budget,

6) Government spending,

7) Public procurement register,

8) Political Financing register,

9) Parliament’s Voting Records,

10) Land Register.

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Finland has achieved the best score – 6.1 points out of 10 – followed by Latvia with 6.0* and Sweden with 5.3 points. This means, though, that there is still a considerable potential for improvement in all three countries.

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According to the main findings, in recent years Latvia has made considerable progress in implementing open data policies, and the government has actively sought to release data for increasing public accountability in a number of areas such as public procurement and state-owned enterprises. At the same time, the report finds that much of this data is still not available in open, machine-readable formats making it difficult for users to download and operate with the data.

 

In Latvia, only 5 out of 10 datasets assessed in the study – company register, public procurement register, government budget, government spending and voting records* – are available in open formats. Other important datasets, such as the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau’s political party financing register and data on beneficial owners (those who effectively own or control companies, particularly important for anti-money laundering) are only visible through online portals or available in PDF format, which makes it harder for journalists, researchers and organised civil society to work with them.

 

The situation in Finland is promising due to a vibrant tech-oriented civil society in the country that has played a key role in promoting initiatives for the application of open data for public integrity in a number of areas, including lobbying and transparency of government resources. In Sweden the situation seems to be more problematic in this respect, as the government has had to cope with the high decentralisation of the Swedish public administration, which seems to have resulted in little awareness of open data policies and practices and their potential for anti-corruption among public officials.

 

Overall, in all three countries it seems that there has been little integration of open data in the agenda of anti-corruption authorities, especially with regard to capacity building. Trainings, awareness-raising and guidelines have been implemented for both open data and anti-corruption; nonetheless, these themes seem not to be interlinked within the public sector. The report also emphasises the lack of government-funded studies and thematic reviews on the use of open data in fighting corruption. This applies both to the national and regional level.

 

A considerable potential for cooperation among Nordic-Baltic countries in the use of open data for public integrity exists, both in terms of knowledge transfer and implementation of common policies. While Nordic countries are among the most technologically advanced in the world and have shown the way with regard to government openness and trust in public institutions, the Baltic countries are among the fastest-growing economies in Europe, with a great potential for digital innovation and development of open data tools.

 

Such cooperation among the three states would be easier in the presence of networks of “tech-oriented” civil society organisations and technology associations, as well as the framework of cooperation with authorities with the common goal of promoting and developing innovation strategies and tools based in open data.

 

 

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER IMPROVEMENT IN LATVIA

  • The Latvian government should ensure cooperation and cohesion among government institutions and agencies in charge of anti-corruption and open data. Cross-departmental trainings and courses should be organised in order to build the capacity of public employees to use open data to prevent and/or identify corruption.
  • In line with the goals set out in the current national anti-corruption agenda, the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau should establish mechanisms for the definition of the national anti-corruption data infrastructure and the identification of the key datasets that should be available as open data. An agreement would be necessary with the Ministry of Environmental Protection and Regional Development and other agencies responsible for the data on a feasible timeline to release the key datasets in open formats.
  • The Latvian government should consider adjusting the existing digital platforms for public consultation in a way that they allow focused consultations with civil society organisations and media on their anti-corruption data needs.
  • The Latvian government should take steps to move towards a richer open data ecosystem with multiple sources to strengthen transparency and integrity. This could be done by encouraging the corporate sector and civil society organisations to open up their data and/or collectively agree on what datasets should be published.

 

KEY RECOMMENDATIONS FOR FURTHER IMPROVEMENT IN THE NORDIC-BALTIC REGION

  • Governments in the three countries, and in the region at large, should implement initiatives to foster mutual understanding of the link between open data and Right to Information, with the goal of improving current practices of disclosure of information within public administrations.
  • Governments in the Nordic-Baltic region might consider working towards a regional Nordic-Baltic strategy on anti-corruption open data, identifying critical cross-border issues (i.e. money laundering, lobbying and transnational organised crime) and the key areas of cooperation.
  • Governments in the Nordic-Baltic region might consider promoting regional-wide open data literacy initiatives. This process would be facilitated by the existence of strategic coalitions for digital literacy within the three countries.
  • Governments in the Nordic-Baltic region should consider commissioning regional-wide studies on the use and impact of open data on anti-corruption and public accountability. Such studies would be made easier by existing frameworks of cooperation between academic institutions in the region.
  • Governments in the Nordic-Baltic region should promote the formation of strategic regional partnerships together with the civil society and private sector in order to foster the organisation of regional forums, hackathons, labs and co-creation initiatives aimed at developing open data tools for public integrity.

 

* ERRATA: We have found an error made during the review process concerning the dataset “Voting records” in Latvia (see p.16 of the report on Latvia and p.14 of the general overview report). The previous version of the report and press release stated that the Latvian Parliament’s voting records are not available in open data format. This situation has changed, as the dataset in question was made available in open data format and uploaded in the central open data portal data.gov.lv at the end of September. As a result, the average score for datasets in Latvia has increased from 5.6 to 6.0 and the text of the reports and press release have been amended accordingly. While the correction of the mistake is certainly relevant for the specific scoring on Latvia, it does not affect the general findings of the research. We apologise for the error.

 

This publication has been produced with the financial support from the Nordic Council of Ministers. The content of this publication is the sole responsibility of the coordinators of this project and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of the Nordic Council of Ministers.

 

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