Lack of open data policy limiting use of data collected

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 20 Oct 2019

KUALA LUMPUR: The Statistics Department proclaims on its website that it is a “Producer of National Statistics”.

It’s a job that carries a heavy workload and costs millions of ringgit, said World Bank economist on poverty and equity, Dr Kenneth Simler.

“They have to go to 80,000 households and ask hundreds of questions. (But) most of the time, its report comes out after the survey and that’s almost all that gets done, ” he said.

Dr Simler said a lack of an open data policy is limiting the use of data collected by the department.

In other countries where there is such a policy, he said the data would be available to university researchers, graduate students, think tanks and government agencies.

“They want to do their analysis, publish their paper and expand knowledge. Their research can be valuable for informing policy decisions and shaping policy, ” he said.

“In this way the government gets a much greater return on the money that was invested in collecting the data, ” he added.

A limited access to data would mean that researchers would not be able to get precise information.

“When the Statistics Department does provide data to other agencies, they usually limit it to 30% of the data. If 30% is good enough, why spend three times the amount of money to collect the 100%?

“Clearly, the other 70% of the data has information value and besides, the money to collect that data has already been spent.

“Sometimes, it is claimed that the 30% limitation is imposed to protect confidentiality.

“We understand that the survey data is personal information and is protected under the Statistics Act. But the department has systems for anonymising data.

“If it’s sufficiently confidential for 30%, then it’s the same for the other 70%, ” he said.

To the argument that the department should charge people for the use of their data, Dr Simler said this practice varied among countries.

“Some countries build this into their ‘business model’ so that there is a certain government budget to collect and analyse data, ” he said, adding that they could supplement this by selling the data.

“But in other countries, the data is treated as a public good and something that tax dollars pay for and should be available for research purposes, ” he said.

Dr Simler said in 2016, the Economic Planning Unit had asked the World Bank to conduct a review of the country’s statistical system.

“One of the main findings is that Malaysia’s statistical system is very decentralised, very compartmentalised and there is no overall coordination, ” he said.

He said while the Statistics Department was the “biggest player” in terms of collecting data, other agencies such as Bank Negara and ministries collect data as well.

In a statement to mark National Statistics Day yesterday, Unicef representative in Malaysia Marianne Clark-Hattingh said it was critical for Malaysia to take further steps to address persistent gaps to ensure timely provision of accurate data on the well-being of children.

“When the right data is in the right hands at the right time, decisions can be better informed, more equitable, and more likely to protect children’s rights, ” she said.

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