Ομιλία (στα αγγλικά) Υφυπουργού παρά τω Προέδρω σε Συνέδριο με θέμα «Law via the Internet» στη Λεμεσό, στις 8 Σεπτεμβρίου
Ladies and gentlemen, let me start by stating the obvious.
Information maintained by the government is not a government asset. It is a national asset. And as such, appropriate action should be taken by the government for unlocking the Departmental closets where such information is kept and disclosing it rapidly to the public, in forms that can be easily read and used.
I would suggest that in modern democratic society, open data is a citizen’s right. A right that has to be protected and provided by law.
Openness promotes transparency and therefore accountability for what the government is actually doing. In this context it encourages public engagement which, in time, improves the quality of the government’s decisions.
It increases the effectiveness and efficiency of government work itself, by reducing the cost of operation, by utilizing public data produced by other public services.
It promotes entrepreneurship, as data is raw material that can be used by citizens, journalists, companies and researchers to develop value-added services and commercialized in many areas of economic activity.
We have already seen concrete results from this ‘mining’ of the information, both internationally but also in Cyprus.
We have seen applications that have improved the quality of daily life of citizens. For example, the available data on accessibility has reduced barriers to work, travel and tourism for people with disabilities.
The data available on public transport has increased both the number of passengers and the available time. While data on roads were used for various purposes, including in combination with elements such as hotel locations, points of interest for tourists, healthcare, services, etc. helping to create tourist applications.
In the UK and Ireland, utilizing public data has led to developing websites that allow citizens to report problems on the roads such as potholes, poor lighting, etc. And by using open geographical data related complaints are brought before the competent authorities for investigation.
I am particularly content to see that the effort has also been utilized by the pioneers and forerunners of what may follow in Cyprus. Apart from the great job done by the legal portals CYLAW and LEGINET which already have been created, the more recent list includes applications such as Cyprus by Bus, Fuel Finder and Open Tourism CY.
The list of examples of how public data could be used for creating economic activity and jobs is as inexhaustible, as the imagination and skills of those young entrepreneurs who may turn vision into activity. No state official or department can preempt, capture, or even guide the potential and the entrepreneurial spirit of dynamic young programmers and entrepreneurs. Our duty as a government is clear; It is to collect, provide and renew more and more data in form that can be processed and in good quality. And then 'the sky is the limit'.
As Neelie Kroes, former vice president of the European Commission, has said, referring to the data available to the public administration, "we are sitting on a gold mine" and much of this information has not been "mined".
The opening of data is no easy task. We took a big step by introducing legislation last December, in which all data, documents, information and any other data held by the public sector, should be available, accessible and open to the public.
But from legislation to implementation is not easy, as you are all in a position know.
It takes hard work and preparation. It entails the use of modern tools, methods and systems. Coordination and collaboration of hundreds of officers and different sections of the public. We need discipline and dedication.
When last November, the Presidency politically adopted this, until then politically orphan policy in Cyprus, we organized a workshop in order to educate civil servants. Until then there were available only about 100 data sets from just 10 departments of the government.
At that time, I invited public officials to cooperate in order to promote and apply in practice the policy of open data in each Ministry, because it is a high goal of reform of the Presidency itself. But this was not enough. We had to work with experts to promote this reform in a scientific a coherent way.
I must say that the results exceeded my expectations and this reform was embraced by the public sector. Today, the National Portal Open Data (www.data.gov) consists of over 1000 processed data sets from over 60 governmental departments. Data could be downloaded by category in the form of statistics, map formats, or registers. The list is updated and enriched every day. By the end of the year we expect to reach 1200 datasets.
Yes, we still have a long way to go, not only in quantitative but also in qualitative terms. But if this reform effort continues, gradually, all public sector data will be open in the next few years.
The opening of public data is therefore a real, comprehensive reform.
It is a reform for transparency and accountability, since the citizen has a right to information without restrictions. This provides the tool for social and journalistic control to the government, a characteristic of good administration practices.
It is an e-Government reform since the data is easily available electronically via a modern, special electronic platform
It is part of the civil service reform as it provides a real service to the public and as public services can access data of other public services, something that was previously unattainable.
But it is also a significant growth reform, as the data can be used by the business world, from start-ups, by researchers and academics to create new ideas, new fields that can help support the economy and create new jobs and incomes.
Addressing an audience of legal professionals, I should also address the issue of the need to promote free access to legal information.
The most obvious answer is that access to legislation is part of the rule of law. Citizens should be able to have access to the laws from which their rights and obligations emanate.
The view that legal texts are only available in legal libraries and interest only lawyers and judges is outdated. The law and jurisprudence needs to be viewed as public data to which all citizens and businesses should have free access.
Looking at laws from the public data perspective makes one realize that all those involved in the in the law-making process have a duty to try to make laws more anthropocentric, effective and accessible. Producing laws that only the legal community can comprehend is no longer acceptable simply because laws are now easily accessible through the Internet to a much wider audience.
I am fully aware that maintaining a user-friendly electronic legal information source carries many inherent difficulties, because the regulatory framework is a living organism that is constantly changing. Laws are repealed, amended, consolidated, new precedent is decided, requiring continuous revision and updating of the content in order to remain a useful and authoritative source of information for users. Otherwise, such a source of information can be misleading and dangerous for users. It is for this reason, that maintaining a valid legal data point entails a vast responsibility towards the public that entrusts it.
The transparency of the legal system of a country is also one of the three conditions for participation in the World Trade Organization and transparency is enhanced through free access to the regulatory framework.
Law is one of the main parameters that determines people’s live hood in modern democratic societies. It directly affects their daily lives, their income, their investments, their rights for managing their property, for access to health care or education. The way they daily operate and conduct their work or even social affairs.
Free access to legal information is not enough, if the quality of the regulatory system is not what it should be.
This is why as part of the implementation of the Presidency’s Action Plan for Better Regulation, which was approved by the Council of Ministers in October 2015, we have included specific actions to improve the quality of laws and regulations, so that they are easier to understand and also more easily accessible.
The main actions are:
- Consolidation and distribution of laws and jurisprudence through a public website for easy access by citizens and businesses. As you know, we are in contact with the Cyprus Bar Association for potential cooperation to upgrade the cylaw website which offers this open access service to the entire public in Cyprus and abroad and to promote the consolidation of legislation.
- Education and training of public officials in drafting legislation, and the legislative drafting process, based on best practices. Training is conducted by leading professors of the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies in London.
- Preparation of guidelines by the Legal Service for drafting of legislation, to be followed by all public officers. Providing practical guidelines will serve as a tool for improving the drafting of legislation and control of the quality, and will facilitate the work of digitization and Internet publication of laws.
- Introducing e justice so as to improve the way courts operate in areas such as case filling and management, case allocation, record keeping as well as improving the systems that aid judges and other key professionals, through the provision of databased of court decisions and legislation. More importantly, ICT initiatives if successfully completed will improve the overall efficiency of courts, speed up the disposition of cases, hence improve CY ratings in competitiveness indicators.
- A new impact assessment method and a more detailed guide for conducting impact assessment by the governmental departments proposing new legislation. The new method was approved by the Cabinet of Ministers last week. This last action is also related to one very important parameter. The quality of the policy which is translated into law.
And let me be frank. From a policy perspective I personally believe that in the future, a more comprehensive reform is needed in consolidating and repealing legislation, as well as more advanced impact assessments contacted. I would even suggest that a central mechanism should be established to control the quality and quantity of legislation and over-regulation, because my personal belief is that this is already a phenomenon creating important distortions in Cyprus.
But let me not deviate with adjacent policy issues and close my intervention to the topic I was asked to address, open access to information.
This Government, through an ambitious and complicated project of opening data, has proved its commitment to create an unprecedented level of openness in Government.
Yes, there is still a lot work to be done after the term of this government finishes but this effort should continue to ensure public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy, our institutions, and will promote efficiency and effectiveness in both within the Government and in the private sector.
Taking this opportunity, allow me to congratulate the Cyprus Bar Association and cylaw for the excellent job they did in organizing the Law via the Internet Conference in Cyprus, which has itself become an institution for stakeholders.