World records: Cayman's open data flaws

Typically, a letter grade of “C” means “average.” But when it puts your country on par with the likes of Pakistan and Russia, in terms of government transparency, what it really means is “unsatisfactory.”

According to a new Global Open Data Index, ranking the availability and accessibility of government data, Cayman came in tied for 61st place, right in the middle of the 122 countries that were assessed. The scores are based on 13 different kinds of data, including statistics, government spending, election results, procurement tenders, company registers, land ownership and weather forecasting.

When confronted with these sorts of lists, compiled according to complex (and potentially arbitrary) variables, one of the most useful approaches to interpretation is to see which countries are at the top, which are at the bottom and which are nearby. That way you can tell if Cayman is where it wants to be, and, if not, in which direction we should like to move.

As we noted above, Cayman’s current neighborhood doesn’t appear to be the most desirable. Tied numerically with Pakistan and Russia, Cayman’s score (30 out of a possible 100) is wedged between that of Kenya (27 percent) and Ukraine (34 percent). While Cayman fares a hair better than Bermuda (29 percent), we lag behind many of our other competitors, including Guernsey (35 percent), Jersey (36 percent), Luxembourg (41 percent), Hong Kong (42 percent), Isle of Man (57 percent) and the United States (64 percent).

Our Mother Country achieved exceptionally high marks (76 percent), second only to Taiwan (78 percent). At the bottom end of the index are Iran (7 percent), Libya (6 percent), Syria (5 percent) and Myanmar (3 percent).

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In terms of tangible factors such as economic prosperity, individual freedom and personal security, it is pretty clear to us whose example Cayman should be seeking to follow.

Some officials, including Premier Alden McLaughlin and Opposition Leader McKeeva Bush, have criticized the prevailing open government regime, characterized by Cayman’s Freedom of Information Law, as being onerous, time-consuming and prone to abuse by vexatious malcontents. While we at the Compass consider ourselves to be champions of public sector accountability and transparency, we do empathize with some of their concerns.

A potential solution to shortcomings in the current “ask, haggle, then (maybe) receive” method of requesting government records is to make it unnecessary to lodge many of those requests in the first place, by proactively publishing the most-frequently sought-after information, preferably online in a format that can easily be analyzed by citizen users.

At this stage in the maturation process of Cayman’s public sector, however, we wouldn’t ask officials to overly concern themselves with the specific formatting of data before offering it up for public consumption. For now, text documents such as meeting minutes, tender documents, public contracts and significant reports will constitute a good start toward “good governance.”

We don’t want officials to hold up the release of useful public information, for example, because it’s not in a “machine readable” format. Let’s begin with “human readable,” and go from there.

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  1. Take another look at the items covered. You state:

    The scores are based on 13 different kinds of data, including statistics, government spending, election results, procurement tenders, company registers, land ownership and weather forecasting.

    That’s just 7 out of 13.
    The others include National Map and Transportation Timetable, Pollutant Emissions, Water Quality and Location Datasets (whatever that is).

    What has weather forecasting go to do with procurement tenders?

    And do we really want open company registers? This is something our premier just correctly fought against being imposed on us.

    And why is public registers of land ownership an issue? Do we want that to be public information?

    Also please note that we are well ahead of Turks and Caicos and BVI.

  2. This is an interesting topic, and actually should be of concern to all Caymanians. The reason for this is the public should know what the government is doing while it is doing it. Not after the fact is often the case. Public access to contracts, and tenders for example allows the public to see that the government is about to spend your tax dollars on. Once those dollars are spent, it makes no difference to learn how they were wasted; if that is the case as in the current Health System scandal.

    The public should be cautions about what it asks for, as things can go overboard quickly. For example, in Florida anyone can go online to find out what property you own, where it is (linked GPS mapping) who your neighbors are, what you paid for it and when, who owned it before you, what your taxes are, when you paid them. In addition, copies of any mortgage documents are there for the world to see, court records including liens, foreclosures, tax notices are all listed in perpetuity and for anyone with a computer to see or print out. So, as they say, be careful what you wish for.

    Large government databases such as drivers license and voting data is readily available to the public (for a fee) and anyone can obtain such records for commercial and political purposes.

    Easy access to government records through computerization is a wonderful thing in the right hands, but placed in the wrong ones is dangerous and the public should take caution. Of course the press should have easy access to all government records, especially meeting records.