Sharing data for good of the nation

THE ongoing political developments have created uncertainty among Malaysians who are now faced with the prospect of getting a new government or snap polls.

But whichever party or parties form the next government, there must be a realisation that national growth is built on the foundation of equity, togetherness and justifiable distribution of resources among citizens, especially those in the B40 and M40 groups.

Providing social and economic assistance is the biggest priority, and data accumulation is the crucial bedrock to ensure that this is delivered to the people who need it most.

For each policy formulated by the government through its various ministries, including Education, Human Resources, Rural Development, Housing and Local Government and Women, Family and Community Development, the data component is often highlighted as the most pertinent barrier in implementing sustainable policies and programmes.

Agencies and organisations compiling and holding important data should open these data to the purview of the public for better policy formulation.

Gone are the days when ministries and agencies kept the information only for internal use, causing considerable difficulty to external parties, both government and private, that need data-driven knowledge to formulate policies.

For Malaysia to progress, an organic information-sharing approach that cuts across ministries, agencies, industries, communities and non-government entities must be adopted.

Under the stewardship of Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Uzir Mahidin, the chief statistician of Malaysia, the Department of Statistics (DOSM) has indicated a higher degree of openness, and far-reaching and consequential data previously kept under wraps are now being made public.

Data transparency – often mentioned as a cog in the national administration – helps to ramp up policy discussion among the relevant stakeholders and the public.

The civil service plays a major role in shaping this idea by developing suitable mechanisms to enhance the level of understanding and deliberation of issues.

Malaysia’s approach to data sharing can be described as moderately transparent, with selected components or fields highlighted through notable official platforms, for example the websites of ministries, annual reports and national publications.

However, there are instances when these documents are only made available for a short period of time before being removed from circulation.

The DOSM’s role in resolving this issue is essential as it is the main channel for longitudinal data accessibility that enables all stakeholders to assess past and current developments from a quantitative standpoint. Availability of complete published datasets assists researchers to obtain critical information without having to resort to alternative or unverified media.

With IT-based technologies, including big data and analytics, dictating our policy focus and direction, the depth and consistency in tracking socioeconomic indicators among individuals must be our utmost concern.

Integrating demographic background, educational attainment, employment status, wealth accumulation and financial situation (such as income level and amount of debt) with healthcare matters, legal issues and household elements would provide in-depth information on each individual and pave the way for holistic policy formulation and targeted social programmes.

Emulating countries like Pakistan, Brunei and China in developing centralised databases is the best way forward. Using this method has enabled China to establish more effective mechanisms to combat the spread of Covid-19 and allow holistic measures to be undertaken.

In the long run, consolidating our databases (national, state and local) should help to drive continuous societal evaluation via the establishment of comprehensive, and all-encompassing social indexes.

By simultaneously resolving bureaucratic processes, justifying internal government plans and developments as well as focusing on the eventual delivery to specific target groups, Malaysia will have a chance to be in a competitive position in the medium term with the social well-being of the people and country being a major driving force towards sustainability.


Shah Alam

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