Two years ago, in 2015, Moldova was two positions ahead of Slovakia in a global open data ranking, Open Data Barometer. In just one year, Slovakia has made a considerable leap, climbing three positions ahead of Moldova in this top of 115 states. If in 2015 Slovakia ranked 36th, in 2016 - it went straight to the 29th position. Moldova also advanced in the top, but much slower - from 34th to 31st position. Beyond this world ranking, the local perception is that in Moldova instead of opening, access to data has become more difficult in the last year.
„Open Data” Boom in Slovakia
Gabriel Šípoš, the executive director of Transparency International Slovakia, explains that the opening of data in Slovakia was primarily due to the political will (the government effort in the Open Government Partnership), as well as the insistence of civil society and companies. The growth in the Open Data Barometer was triggered by the opening of multiple data sources, such as school performance information, crime data, company registration data, etc. – information accessible to anyone free of charge in reusable format.
In addition to the international recognition of performance, the opening of data had a strong impact on Slovaks also domestically. The open financial data of the Slovak companies enjoyed great popularity. Nowadays, anyone can find any information about the founders and administrators, turnover, profits, taxes paid, number of employees, etc. of any company from open sources. Currently, private companies set up their own webpages with business information, which many journalists use almost daily.
According to Gabriel Šípoš, the opening of data can be fruitful both for increasing confidence in the business sector, as well as for the development of start-ups.
In Moldova, the open data about the companies are limited, being impossible to check their financial reports, changes within the company since its foundation, the share of the founders in the companies, the share capital etc. Some of this information can be obtained from the State Registration Chamber - but only for a fee.
Anonymization of the courts’ rulings in Slovakia versus Moldova
In Slovakia, in case of the court rulings referring to companies, the information is not depersonalized; instead, in the case of processes involving individuals, anonymization is applied. However, the information on the parties in the case may be found in court proceedings, where the names and surnames of individuals are published. In Moldova, despite the adoption in October 2017, of a Regulation on the publication of court rulings, which clearly establish that the names of firms and institutions cannot be shaded, and in the case of names of individuals there are clear conditions when the depersonalization applies, the court rulings are still excessively anonymous.
An unpublished procurement agreement becomes null automatically
In case of a public procurement process, the Slovak authorities are obliged to make public all the information: from the tender, to the awarded public procurement agreement. The impact of this transparency is impressive. Hence, the civil society can intervene in various procurement procedures to assess the objective need for any procurement initiated by the authorities, as well as to correctly estimate the value of the procurement contract. In case when the procurement agreement is not made public immediately after signing, it becomes null.
In Moldova, the transparency of public procurement is limited. Notices of participation are made public, after which the procedure continues within the contracting authority and the procurement contracts are not made public. Instead, the names of the winners of the tenders are published, useful in this regard being SI State Registry of Public Procurement, as well as the list of awarded contracts, filled in by the Public Procurement Agency. Through these sources, the interested parties can identify who the state suppliers are, as well as the money spent on the basis of the procurement contracts. Often, however, this information is also published with errors. In the list of contracts awarded, there are instances of erroneous indication of the number of participants in the procurement process, as well as instances of erroneous indication of the value of the agreements to increase the contracts.
Slovaks can check what plots of land and dwellings the dignitaries have bought
The cadastral data are also open in Slovakia, and the interested people have the opportunity to search for any information through various search engines (owner name, exact address, etc.). Hence, the Slovak civil society can monitor both: the state property and how it is used, as well as the properties of state officials. In Moldova, the access to the Cadaster database is against payment, but even so, the search engines are limited, it is impossible to identify the real estate and the land as per the owner's name. The only search options are by address or cadastral number. Under these circumstances, it is very difficult to verify and document data on state property or state officials.
How does the open data make the politicians accountable?
An important and binding aspect of the open data in Slovakia, mentioned by Gabriel Šípoš, is the publication of the data in re-usable format (the possibility of extracting and processing data by the specialists). In Moldova, the so-called open data are often “semi-open” - these are published in non-reusable formats (pdf, images, etc.).
The impact of open data on politics, the business environment and civil society was summed up by the Slovak expert in the first place, by accountability of politicians and civil servants about how much money they spend, what procurements they make, and what decisions they make on behalf of the citizens. Secondly, Šípoš believes that open data promotes business confidence, since the information about competitors or business partners can easily be verified. In addition to that, the opening of data determined the emergence and development of small specialized businesses on open data, packing this information published by authorities in packages/formats useful for the citizens, journalists, NGOs and other businesses.
There were three principles at the basis of the international evaluation of open data: the availability of governments to support open data initiatives (for Moldova - 55 out of 100), the implementation of open data projects/programs (54 out of 100) and the impact of open data on the business environment, politics and civil society (14 out of 100).
In the case of the Republic of Moldova, in 2016, compared to 2015, Open Data Barometer found a slight increase in the state availability to support open data initiatives and in the implementation of open data projects. Paradoxically, however, the impact of open data on the business environment, politics and civil society has dropped significantly.
This investigative article was developed with the support of the Project “Strengthening civil society capacities in the field of open data use", implemented by the United Nations Development Program and financed by the SlovakAid Transition Knowledge and Experience Transfer Program of the Slovak Republic. All opinions belong to the authors/author and do not reflect the official position of UNDP Moldova, the Government of the Republic of Moldova, the Government of the Slovak Republic or their affiliates.