Spurred by pandemic, group calls for greater data openness

[For Bahasa Malaysia version please click here]

A group comprising researchers, civil society groups and think tanks have called for the government to be more forthcoming about the data it controls, especially in light of the Covid-19 pandemic.

They said the government should share data relating to its Covid-19 response in a manner that is more meaningful, timely, and granular.

In the long run, they said the government should engage with the research community and data scientists to formulate a comprehensive legal and policy framework that will strengthen Malaysia’s data governance and ensure citizens’ right to information.

“A lack of data openness and transparency has led to much speculations, misinformation and anxiety among the public in dealing with Covid-19.

“Despite the daily announcement by the Ministry of Health, the numbers do not provide sufficient information for the Malaysian public to make informed choices. Vague names given to the clusters meant little, while the format of the announcement also made the progress of Covid-19 hard to track.

“We understand that a ‘whole-of-society’ effort is needed to combat Covid-19, not only on the health front but also on the social and economic fronts.

“By sharing more granular and timely Covid-19 and socioeconomic data, the government can also invite more collaboration from the civil society, think-tanks, citizen researchers and media to provide policy analyses and responses.

“Similarly, greater data transparency can also help debunk some myths and allegations about the government’s effort in handling both the Covid-19 spread and the economic downturn due to the pandemic,” they said in a joint statement today.

The statement is signed by 19 organisations, including Research for Social Advancement (Refsa), Institute of Democracy and Economic Affairs (Ideas), Centre for Independent Journalism, Centre for Governance and Political Studies Malaysia Health Coalition, Undi18, and Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia.

It is also signed by 47 individuals, including academics, analysts, and activists.

They said they recognise the government’s efforts to make data more accessible with the establishment of the portal in 2014.

However, even when data is made available, it is often incomplete, not up-to-date, or lacking in granularity.

“The data governance and management in Malaysia is also fragmented across ministries and agencies.

“There is no clear definition as to what data can be shared, leading to each ministry/agency having a different set of practices to determine how data is shared with the public, which hampers a data-sharing culture,” they said.

For the record, Malaysia ranks 53 out of 115 countries in the latest (2016) edition of the World Wide Web Foundation’s Open Data Barometer, which scores countries based on several measures of data openness.

This places Malaysia behind several regional peers in Southeast Asia, namely the Philippines (Ranked 22), Singapore (23), Indonesia (38).

However, Malaysia still ties with Thailand (53) and is ahead of Vietnam (79) and Myanmar (113).

Visit for further information and to join the effort.

– Published in Malaysiakini on 2 March 2021.

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