Open Accessible Data is the Accountability of the State: Politicians and Experts on E-Governing in Ukraine
Is it possible to introduce electronic voting? What’s wrong with open data in Ukraine? Why do public authorities rely on the publication of all open data? This was stated by participants of the online event “Regional Discussion of Reforms: e-Democracy and Governance“, organized by the RPR Coalition on May 21.
In Ukraine, more than 3 million people already use e-democracy services. And in the lively discussed bill “On the all-Ukrainian referendum” the concepts of “electronic voting”, “electronic identification”, etc. are mentioned over 100 times. On the one hand, the question of the need to adopt a law on electronic voting is ripe in Ukraine, but on the other hand, there is a lot of scepticism about the safe implementation of this concept. This was stated by the head of the Center for Innovation Development, co-author of the draft analytical brief “E-Democracy and E-Governance” Serhii Loboyko during the presentation of the document.
“The number of online tools and Internet users will grow. Therefore, it is important to develop the capacity of citizens, communities and government agencies to make decisions based on data analysis,” says Loboyko.
The main recommendations to the authorities in the field of e-democracy and governance for 2020 – 2021 (as of January 2020), set out in brief:
- development and adoption of the national strategy “Digital State 2025” and relevant regulations for its implementation, which should be correlated with the priorities of the “European Commission Digital Strategy”;
- quality improvement and constant control of the security of created IT solutions (web platforms, websites, specialized software, mobile applications), interoperability, and use of the Cloud First approach. Adoption of the draft law “On public electronic registers” in the second reading;
- amendments to the Law on Personal Data Protection to introduce an effective system of personal data protection, development of open data taking into account the rules of the EU digital space;
- ensuring publicity of the actions of the Ministry of Digital Transformation, the formation of expert groups in various areas, support of initiatives in the field of CivicTech and GovTech to create data-based services;
- transfer of state-owned data to communities for decision-making based on them; support for the “Smart City” concept on the ground; development of a new version of the Law of Ukraine “On Local Self-Government”.
Electronic democracy: Ukrainian realities
There is now controversy around the world over the feasibility of introducing full electronic voting in elections. Member of the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Digital Transformation Viktoriia Podhorna draws attention to the topic.
“The international organization IFES says that the introduction of electronic voting in Ukraine carries risks due to the existing digital security systems, given Russia’s hybrid aggression. But now we are looking for electronic tools to administer the election process,” said the MP.
She reminded that e-democracy could be not only direct but also representative. Therefore, work is underway to amend the law “On Political Parties” in the digital sphere together with the public, which provides the following proposals:
- electronic registration of parties;
- Registering party members to monitor party position: some people may be members of dozens of political parties;
- electronic reporting of parties;
- electronic registration of candidates in elections.
E-democracy begins with the transparency and openness of the state: electronic data and convenient tools for obtaining them, said Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation Liudmyla Riabchynska.
“The more data a person can get online, the less workload there will be on the authorities in the form of written appeals,” she explains.
Rabchynska added that the Ministry of Digital Transformation is currently working on the concept of an online platform for interaction between the authorities and public organizations.
“E-democracy builds public confidence in the government. And this is exactly the social capital we need,” adds Vadym Bortnyk, who is responsible for supporting the regional digitalization of the ministry.
Open data is the foundation of an effective state
In Ukraine, there are from 1.5 to 5.5 million users of open data, depending on the calculation methods, according to statistics, says the head of the sector “IT and Telecom” BRDO Ihor Samokhodskyi.
Open data is the accountability of government agencies. They make it easy to detect corruption. Therefore, public authorities have no motivation to provide access to it.
“Now the main issue is the implementation of open data legislation, not changes to it,” – said Samokhodsky.
The Convention on Access to Official Documents (Tromso Convention), recently ratified by Parliament, significantly restricts access to open data. After all, the provisions of this convention provide for much less than required by current Ukrainian legislation. Lilia Oleksiuk, the head of the Waibit NGO association, spoke about this.
“The budget process began in May. But will sufficient allocations be made to the concept of e-government, e-democracy and cybersecurity?” She asks.
Kyrylo Zakharov, Heads of the Palm Court Platforms, draws attention to the need to standardize and verify open data.
“Usually digitized registries are just Word or Exel files in PDF format,” says the expert, adding that existing government information systems are outdated and have a low level of security.
Another issue is the delegation of authority to collect data.
“The Ministry of Community Development delegates the collection of some data to NGOs. But they sometimes pass incomplete information or delay sending it,” Zakharov sums up.
In Ukraine, there is an electronic list of recipients of subsidies, but there is no such important data as the list of tenants of land, says IT adviser to the Chairman of the NAPC Stanislav Haider.
And in recent years, the pace of disclosure of socially important open data has declined, says Director of Youcontrol Serhii Milman.
“The Unified State Register does not publish all the data required by law, such as the open license and permits. But there are no consequences for that,” explains Milman.
The policy of the Ministry of Education and Science regarding creating electronic services without providing access to open data has a low-efficiency.
“State-created electronic services cannot cover all open data. However, with full access to it, there will be many startups that will provide services based on open data,” said Milman.
In this context, the Chairman of the Association of Small Towns of Ukraine Pavlo Kozyrev proposed to introduce automatic publication of data that should be open by the law.
The information published on state websites is not always verified, says Nadiya Babynska-Virna, coordinator of the OpenUp initiative.
“All websites of public authorities must contain verified information. For example, the CEC website states that the data published there is not official,” the expert said.
She suggested implementing a government policy to implement open source IT solutions, as in the ProZorro system. This will allow you to assess the level of security of the service objectively.
Open Data in the regions
Another big problem is the lack of staff in local governments to work with data and understand the need for this data.
“Local self-governments understand this as a problem, not a simplification of their work in the future,” says Stanislav Haider.
Because of this, at the local level, open data began to turn into information noise, adds the Director of the City Institute Volodymyr Kondziolka.
“However, local self-government bodies should base their informed decisions on open data,” said Olena Hunko, head of the IT office in the executive committee of the Lviv City Council.
She named mobile operators as one of the unique sources of this data.
Kateryna Shamardina, a deputy of the Kropyvnytskyi City Council, suggested using the public budget as a tool for direct e-democracy in all cities.
“People have to decide for themselves which projects are worth funding. In Kropyvnytskyi, every year more and more residents join the voting in these projects,” said the deputy.
Serhii Karelin, a coordinator of the e-democracy program of the EGAP program of the Eastern Europe Foundation, agrees: “In Slovyansk when the public budget is adopted exclusively online, the number of voters has doubled in the last few years: from 4,000 to 8,000.”
“Regional Discussion of Reforms” is organized by the RPR Coalition in partnership with the Embassy of the Republic of Lithuania. The event is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Lithuania and the National Democratic Institute (NDI), with financial support from the United States Agency for International Development.