In September 2014, the Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia De Lille, led an initiative that could have saved her from one of her greatest challenges as the leader of the City of Cape Town.The initiative was aimed at enabling members of the public to have access to the cities data and information in the form of documents and other important information. The initiative is now known as Open Data programme. If the initiative was implemented fully it would have created an Open Government that enables its residents to have access to everything they need to know.

The City of Cape Town and Mayor De Lille has to be commended for leading the Open Data initiative however more could have been done. As the first step in driving Open Data within the City an Open Data policy was formulated.  One of the desired outcomes that were stated in the policy was to enhance transparency and empower citizens to hold the City to account.To give life to the policy, an Open Data Portal was created to enable the public to access City data that includes: tender data,water data, spatial data,pollution data,Cape Town statistics and other important data about Cape Town.

To implement the policy, an Open Data Steering Committee was established to determine content that can be shared with the residents.  The policy states that  this committee was setup for “vetting all content submitted for publication on the portal”. The policy emphasized strict measures for checking and making sure that what is released to the public is checked for “appropriateness” as determined by the City of Cape Town officials. Although this process was necessary it also led to bottlenecks to what is released to the public which to a certain extent limited the effectiveness of the Open Data initiative of the City of Cape Town.

This could be the reason why the Open Data initiative could not save the Mayor from her current challenges. Open Data should allow ease of access to information about Finance data, infrastructure data ,meeting minutes and other important information for decision making by all stakeholders of the city. This has not been the case with the City of Cape Town Open Data initiative. Currently the public does not have enough information to make an informed decision about some accusations towards the Mayor. All the information that relates to improvements at the Mayors home, transport tender minutes for MyCiti busses and communication in relation to appointments should all be in the Open Data Portal. For a City to be truly  a champion of Openness through Open Data it should do what the Estonia government is currently doing. Among the data available on the Estonian Open data portal is the dataset about agreements, regulations, correspondence metadata, budget files, statistics files, databases/registers and others. For a City to be truly open, the residents should easily access information about contracts (such as MyCiti bus contracts, view tender briefing minutes and findings and information that can improve public trust in public institutions. It is not too late for City of Cape Town officials to “Open Up” and enable the public to access information to make up their own minds about what really happened with various matters that are making headlines in Cape Town.

 

The City of Cape Town has led the way with Open Data and can continue to improve in this regard. The South African government has also tried to be transparent about some of its activities which is why the public is drowning in news about corruption by public officials. The South African government also needs to be commended for leading the way among African governments in terms of transparency. The government however can also do better by championing Open Government through Open Data. The government can reap many benefits if an Open Data policy can be effectively implemented. The following are just some of the benefits that the World Bank highlights as key:

 

  • Open Data supports public oversight of governments and helps reduce corruption by enabling greater transparency. For instance, Open Data makes it easier to monitor government activities, such as tracking public budget expenditures and impacts. It also encourages greater citizen participation in government affairs and supports democratic societies by providing information about voting procedures, locations and ballot issues.
  • Public Service Improvement. Open Data gives citizens the raw materials they need to engage their governments and contribute to the improvement of public services. For instance, citizens can use Open Data to contribute to public planning, or provide feedback to government ministries on service quality.
  • Innovation and Economic Value. Public data, and their re-use, are key resources for social innovation and economic growth. Open Data provides new opportunities for governments to collaborate with citizens and evaluate public services by giving citizens access to data about those services. Businesses and entrepreneurs are using Open Data to better understand potential markets and build new data-driven products.
  • Open Data makes it easier and less costly for government ministries to discover and access their own data or data from other ministries, which reduces acquisition costs, redundancy and overhead. Open Data can also empower citizens with the ability to alert governments to gaps in public datasets and to provide more accurate information

The President of the ANC and Deputy President of South Africa, Mr Cyril Ramaphosa has promised to bring an end to government corruption. An Open Data programme that truly opens up government data to the public can assist  Ramaphosa in fulfilling his promise. South Africa needs an Open Data portal that can consist all meetings attended by government officials, contracts concluded, financial transaction records for every cent and other important information.

The Mayor of Cape Town has been invited to speak at the upcoming Open Data Summit  on the 5th February 2018, about the City of Cape Town Open Data programme. This will be an opportunity for the Mayor to share successes,challenges, areas for improvement, future Open Data plans and hopefully data that can enable the residents of Cape Town to make more informed decisions.