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Open Data Day: U.S, Romania cooperate towards ensuring access to government information, says the U.S. Charge d’affaires

The U.S. government is currently working with partners from around the world, Romania included, to ensure access to government information through the Open Government Partnership, U.S. Charge d’affaires a.i. Dean Thompson on Friday told the Open Data Day Conference organized by the government of Romania together with the Open Data Coalition, under the aegis of the American partnership.

They say that information means power. For a long time, the authorities have kept a lot of information. But over time, the methods of collecting information and the ways in which they can be accessed became much more sophisticated. (…) The U.S. government cooperates with partners from around the world, Romania included, to ensure access to government information through the Open Government Partnership. The results obtained so far have been downright revolutionary. In my country, the government makes efforts to render the Americans in all the regions capable of contributing to public services in a variety of ways, said the U.S. official.

According to him, amateur researchers help the scientists concerned about the environment to follow the adaptation of the trees to climate change by carefully observing tree budding in spring and the moment when leaves change their color in autumn. Amateur researchers have also created platforms that collect information about the outbreak and spreading of diseases, or about landslides, where warnings are issued about disease-spreading environments and the causes of landslides.

‘Archivist’ citizens enhanced the accessibility of American history through the transcription of over 132 million names from handwritten documents from the 1940 census. Internet users ensure a higher connection speed throughout the country by providing speed test results for their Internet connection. (…) Today I want to encourage the Romanians to capitalize on their own knowledge and experiences. There are already some excellent examples in this regard, like the Romanians who dedicated their lives to opening the Securitate archives, to bringing the past to light for it to no longer repeat in a free and democratic Romania. Other Romanians create services for the verification of information accuracy, for the information to be not only transmitted, but checked as well, so that the consumers are able to better assess the content they receive, said Dean Thompson.

According to him, access to information even means broader economic opportunities.

As the Romanian government’s Online Services and Design Department continues to provide access to information, there is a tremendous potential for better services, more transparent transactions and even expanded economic opportunities. This is the recipe to the creation of new job types and growth generation. Therefore, today I would like to ask everyone to request more information from the authorities, and then take responsibility for finding ways to use that information to the benefit of all Romanian citizens, Dean Thompson concluded.

 

PM Ponta: The more access to data there is, the more communication there is

 

Prime Minister Victor Ponta on Friday pleaded for a correct access to data and for data communication transparency from the public authorities, as, on the contrary, the result could be “a disaster,” such as what happened last year when drawing up the Tax Code.

“An aspect related with the advantage very few see, from the public administration, from prime minister, to ministers, employees, is the fact that, the more transparency there is, the more direct access to data there is, the more correct our communication can be. Otherwise, we depend on the indirect communication, which, of course, is always submitted to various interpretations and trends. I am giving one single example – the Government’s most important project today is the new Tax Code. Last year, because we didn’t know how to be transparent in the drawing-up process, ‘sources’ said at some point that ‘the new tax code increases all fees.’ It was a disaster. I simply told Mrs Minister Petrescu [former Finance Minister], who was trying to explain to me that it wasn’t true, that she was explaining in vain, if we didn’t know how to communicate in a transparent manner, others moved faster, they said all fees would go up and, now, whatever you propose won’t be backed. (…) Nothing is more efficient than saying: ‘here, you have all the data on the table’ and, of course, most people with good faith can use them in a correct manner,” Prime Minister Victor Ponta said on Friday on the occasion of the International Open Data Day, an event organised at the National Library of Romania.

According to the Prime Minister, the existence of concrete projects funded from European money in this area is less talked about.

“I am thinking at least of the project of combating the conflicts of interest by the National Agency for Integrity, which is funded from a European project and which (…) will soon be able, through the access to data, to obtain a better result, I think, rather than coming after one, two, five years and finding a conflict of interest – that preventing it and telling the contract-signing public authority before the signing: ‘Beware, you are in a conflict of interest – a mayor owning a company or a minister or anyone else has something to gain.’ I believe we spend to much energy in combating the effects and very little in combating the causes of the things that go wrong. From this point of view, the access to data and the effort to use these data to prevent, as much as possible, misspending public money is a much more efficient and beneficial thing than to come and reprimand afterwards,” Victor Ponta underscored.

The Prime Minister gave guarantees that any initiative from the civil society aimed at increasing the access to data would be supported.

“I believe it is to the advantage of those paying fees (…) to know what happens with the public funds collected from fees and taxes, how the public authorities work. (…) The access to data definitely makes (…) the public administration be more efficient and better fulfill its constitutional and social duties. Without great enthusiasm from the bureaucratic apparatus, everything related to your initiatives and the political power is being implemented, slower than it should, maybe less than necessary, but the direction is definitely the right one,” Ponta said.


President Iohannis emphasizes importance of access to information and public data transparency

 

President Klaus Iohannis considers that the Romanians must have access to information in order to be able to get involved in public decision making and that the institutions must be transparent and cooperative in their relationship with society. The Open Government Partnership, the international commitment Romania is a part of since 2012, makes all this possible, he notes.

“The Romanian state and the governing process at both central and local level need a substantial openness towards the citizens, and the Open Government Partnership is the tool that must respond to our current needs, but also lift Romania to the state-of-the-art global modernization and technological development standards. (…) The Open Government Partnership expresses at this level the willingness of the Romanian state to modernize, with an emphasis on openness, accountability and efficiency,” reads the message President Iohannis conveyed, through the voice of presidential advisor Andrei Muraru, to the participants in the Open Data Day 2015 Conference taking place at the National Library of Romania.

In his message, the head of state voices his opinion that the Romanian society is open as regards access to the Internet and modern means of communication.

“The experience of the recent elections – the mobilization of the citizens in stark contrast to the authorities – is, I believe, one of the most telling examples of the need for an effective and transparent communication between the institutions and the citizens, so that their rights are respected and the institutions duly fulfill their responsibilities,” the President says.

In this context, he remarks that the normal way would be for all information that pertains to the financing of parties and election campaigns be accessible to the broad public.

“I hereby make a direct reference to the consequences of the lack of transparency – to corruption, the misspending of public money, the lack of accountability – beginning with elections and ending with the way public administration and the government in general work. Rendering data open and democratic is the next step the institutions should take in the fight against corruption at all levels,” said Klaus Iohannis.

In his view, the transition must be made from a Romania of “data that exist just theoretically somewhere in an archive” to a Romania of “usable and easily accessible data.”

“I am fully confident that the citizens know what to do with it. And I know they are expecting this data. From free access to legislation, to data about the health system, public procurement and the results of scientific research performed with public money,” underscores the head of the state.

The President concludes his message by highlighting on the one hand the need for substantive, long-term political support for data opening, and on the other hand for the promotion in the most accessible and useful manner of open data, encouraging its innovative use at the level of the entire society and also in the business environment.

Romania’s participation in Open Government Partnership and the relevant National Action Plan were approved by the government on April 11, 2012. Romania officially joined this concept on April 17, 2012.

The Open Government Partnership (OGP) is a multilateral initiative that aims to secure concrete commitments from governments to promote transparency, empower citizens, fight corruption, and harness new technologies to strengthen governance.

The initiative was formally launched on September 20, 2011, when the 8 founding governments (Brazil, Indonesia, Mexico, Norway, Philippines, South Africa, United Kingdom, United States) endorsed an Open Government Declaration, and announced their country’s action plans.

 

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