CASTRIES, St Lucia -- St Lucia is taking the first step in making government data easily and freely accessible online. It is the first country in the region to join a new open data initiative, which will provide technical assistance and build capacity for countries to open priority data sets, including budget data.
Sen. Dr James Fletcher
"This project is starting to sow the seeds to allow us to make information available,” said James Fletcher, minister of public service, sustainable development, energy, science and technology of the government of St Lucia.
“It is about making data available to the general public so that they can come up with their own conclusions on whether government agencies are performing in a way we should be performing,” he added.
Open government data refers to opening non-sensitive statistics held by governments and making them freely available for re-use by the public. Open data has also proven to be extremely valuable for private companies in other countries where weather, traffic and real estate data have generated sizeable businesses and services.
Research shows that agriculture in the US benefited from US$19 billion a year from open geospatial and GPS data. Opening data on government budgets and spending through ‘open budgeting’ is improving efficiency and increasing citizen participation and accountability. The UK estimated a potential overall economic benefit of £6.8 billion a year from open data.
“Statistics tell the story of people and can play an important role in making policies more effective and accountable, boosting citizen’s engagement, and even generating innovation and local entrepreneurship in the region,” said Sophie Sirtaine, World Bank country director for the Caribbean.
The number of countries with open data programs has grown rapidly over the last few years. More than 40 countries have now open government data sites in the world. However, only one Caribbean nation scores above 35 percent in the International Budget Partnership Open Budget Index, which monitors budget transparency across the world, and few Caribbean nations currently publish budget data on their websites.
“We are glad to support Caribbean countries in this important area of open data and open budget data, and look forward to fruitful results in two years of important data sets that have been made available online,” said Hugh Walker, head of DfID Caribbean.
This new regional initiative is supported by a grant from the UK’s Department for International Development (DfID), the World Bank and its Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building. The project will also partner with the Caribbean Telecommunications Union and other regional organizations working in the open data area.
St Lucia is starting an open data readiness assessment (ODRA). A pilot assessment in Antigua and Barbuda was completed in July 2013 and discussions are ongoing with several countries in the region to roll-out the initiative.