Govt more open in sharing data

The commentary last Friday ("S'pore can afford to be more open in sharing data") cited data from the Global Open Data Index, which attempts to benchmark openness of data internationally.

In the latest 2015 rankings, Singapore ranks a joint 23rd out of 122 places, and not 63rd, ahead of places such as Germany, Switzerland and Hong Kong. In the government spending category, Singapore scored the same as countries such as Australia, Denmark and the United States.

We are surprised that the commentary writers, Asit K. Biswas and Kris Hartley, who are academics, relied on an outdated version of a single index to conclude that the Singapore Government has not been transparent and open in sharing its data.

Had they checked with us, we would have pointed out the flaws on the measurement for Singapore in the old index and advised them to refer to the latest version.

They could also have looked up the "Revenue and Expenditure Estimates" information on the Singapore Budget website (www.singaporebudget.gov.sg) for details of government spending. It is regrettable that they had drawn the wrong conclusions without exercising the care and rigour one expects of academics from the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy.

The Government now makes available more than 12,000 data sets on the Government's open data portal (www.data.gov.sg).

We have recently revamped the portal to make data accessible in more machine-readable and useful formats.

This has enabled users to access more real-time data via application programming interfaces.

We are continually enhancing the portal, currently a beta version, based on public feedback, and we welcome further inputs on ways to improve.

Many government agencies have organised hackathons and made data available for the public to create useful solutions. For example, transport-related data from the Land Transport Authority has enabled the creation of journey planner apps that provide bus arrival times and carpark locations.

Many companies and non-profit organisations have built interesting apps and business models off the OneMap geospatial platform. As part of our Smart Nation journey, we continue to share data to improve services to citizens, create economic value, and promote research and the co-creation of solutions between government and society.

We will continue to make more data available in ways that are consistent with the need to protect individuals, enterprises and the public interest.

Lim Yuin Chien

Director

Corporate Communications

Ministry of Finance


THE WRITERS REPLY:Our analysis was based on the Global Open Data Index (GODI) for last year.

The 2015 analysis came out well after we did our analysis and after we submitted our piece to The Straits Times for publication. Thus, the insinuation that academics like us used outdated data is not only unwarranted but is demonstrably unfair and erroneous.

Singapore has indeed improved its ranking this year, based on the data set released only last Wednesday. While GODI's data shows that Singapore's spending is 10 per cent transparent (up from 0 per cent last year), it is difficult to understand why most developing countries share such low scores.

Methodological errors are GODI's and not ours. Equally, no one indicator can give a full picture for different countries. We are considering an academic paper assessing their methodologies.

For any country to advance, data should be readily available to the public and academics for independent scrutiny and research. In recent years, we have seen perceptible improvements in data availability.

We believe open discussions can only facilitate more and more availability of data that academics need for research. This will enable us to put forward regularly new and innovative policy alternatives for public consideration and discussion. Hopefully, many of these can eventually become government policies.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 15, 2015, with the headline 'Govt more open in sharing data'. Print Edition | Subscribe