With funding support from the Southeast Asia Technology and Transparency Initiative (SEATTI), the Web Foundation’s Open Data Lab Jakarta is implementing the ‘Promoting the Use of Open Data to Strengthen Fiscal Transparency in Indonesia and the Philippines’ (OD4T) project. The goal of the project is to improve local fiscal government transparency in the aforementioned countries. To achieve this, we enable local civil society organisations to make more effective use of publicly available budget and spending data to monitor government use of public funds.
The project assists four civil society organisations (two in Indonesia, and two in the Philippines) who have experience working in fiscal transparency at the local level. These partner organisations are currently working on a local financial transparency issue that can be addressed with open data. The interventions are conceived as pilot projects with a special emphasis on learning in order to inform future work and to enable partners to effectively harness the opportunities of open data. At the end of the project, it is expected that the project partners:
- are able to locate and access data that helps support their mission;
- understand the potential of open data and be able to build this into future programs;
- act as champions of open data amongst other CSOs in local fiscal transparency in their respective countries.
Differences between the participating countries
It is important to mention that the Philippines and Indonesia have different information regimes. While both are pioneer members of the Open Government Partnership and have committed actions to promote transparency, Indonesia has a freedom of information law, which the Philippines is still lacking. In spite of this, the latter is making significant efforts in proactive disclosure of open data through its national government portal. Moreover, it has taken the discussion of open governance forward to local government units through the Full Disclosure Policy (FDP).
How do these differences affect fiscal transparency?
As defined by the International Monetary Fund, fiscal transparency is the “comprehensiveness, clarity, reliability, timeliness, and relevance of public reporting on the past, present, and future state of public finances.” Fiscal transparency helps in ensuring that “governments have an accurate picture of their finances when making economic decisions, including of the costs and benefits of policy changes and potential risks to public finances”. More importantly for citizens, fiscal transparency helps in providing them with “the information they need to hold governments accountable”.
One of – if not its primary and end goal – fiscal transparency’s goals is public accountability. However, fiscal transparency remains dependent on the political will and commitment of government to share information to the public. This is where the difference lies between Indonesia and the Philippines.
In Indonesia, the enactment of the Freedom of Information bill in 2008 which took effect in 2010 gave ordinary citizens the right to go to government agencies and request information from Public Service Delivery Information offices (PPIDs), exempting only those sensitive information and those that affect national security. Such a right is not afforded to Philippine citizens. The Government of the Philippines, however, issued the Full Disclosure Policy (FDP), requiring local government units to publish certain offline and online finance, procurement and budget utilisation documents for citizens to see and use.
Interestingly, despite these differences in information regimes, uptake of government information on the part of citizens is significantly low in both countries. For example, in the Banda Aceh city government in Indonesia,requests for information is low despite the public awareness campaigns on the Freedom of Information (FOI) and established structures and mechanisms for citizens to exercise their right. In the same way, in the provinces of Bohol, Bulacan, and South Cotabato in the Philippines, despite compliance of these provinces to the FDP, utilisation of information disclosed is also low, and sometimes even nil.
Open Data for Transparency workshop initial findings
In a workshop conducted with project partners of the Open Data for Transparency project in August 2014, participants discussed issues in the intersection of fiscal transparency and information regime and arrived at three main points:
- Availability and accessibility are two different things. Yes, information can be made available either through FOI or FDP, but there are still barriers to access in each of these processes. In FOI, request procedures can be made complicated and town centres can be far from requesting citizens, and with FDP, access to technology (e.g. computer, internet) can prohibit citizens from accessing government data. Opening data, making information public, and other related initiatives should not assume that access do not have costs.
- Governments should also ensure that citizens are provided affordable access. Government’s responsibility does not end with data availability. It should inform citizens about what their rights are, in both information regimes, so that citizens can be knowledgeable in exercising their rights. As the Philippine case would suggest, three challenges need to be addressed so that citizens can fully access and use data.
- They should be made aware.
- Their interest should be aroused.
- And they must be helped to understand the data that is available, either through FOI or through proactive disclosure.
- Intermediaries are needed to have data reach citizens and generate impact. An information regime is just the beginning for conditioning data availability. As discussed earlier however, accessibility and use are not assured. Even when data in the Philippines are available online because of FDP, not all citizens will be able to access the data because internet penetration is only at 36%. Further, documents published online require expert knowledge. Thus, there is a need for intermediaries to translate data into meaningful information for citizens, and in a format that can be widely shared even among constituencies without internet connection.
To know more about our Open Data for Transparency project, or FOI and open data project in Banda Aceh, or any of our other activities, visit our projects section. Let us know your thoughts, ideas or suggestions on these issues as well by contacting us and or leaving your comments below.