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Academics echo UN rep's complaint about Putrajaya's opaque data policy

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The Malaysian Academic Movement (Gerak) today expressed similar predicament raised by UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights Phillip Alston (photo) about Putrajaya's lack of transparency when it came to data that is essential for policy decisions.

Alston, who had generated public debate after concluding that Malaysia's poverty rate was grossly underreported, had in his report said the lack of transparency stifled both government and independent research and analysis on poverty and inequality.

"This UN document lends urgency to a problem that has plagued academic research for decades.

"Malaysian researchers, including in academia, have had to painstakingly request data, and are at the mercy of federal officials.

"Here in Malaysia, researchers face prohibitive obstacles to obtaining public data from both federal and state government agencies," said the Gerak executive committee in a statement today.

The committee added that even when the government grants access to data, they are often only selected portions of the dataset and does not meet the requirements of a research project.

Gerak said the government has a large amount of data - from demography and manufacturing to plantation and labour - which can be analysed to help formulate food policies.

"These datasets hold a wealth of potential information and insight, and are immensely useful for social science research and policy solutions," he said.

Gerak said while it commends the government's commitment to open data and has made progress through the public data hub data.gov.my, there was still "tremendous room for improvement".

"In this regard, Gerak calls on the Malaysian government to fully honour its commitment to making public data accessible for research in an open and complete manner.

"Researchers require raw data to conduct original, meaningful and impactful research –that is, data that has not been processed, converted or summarised," he said, adding that this was not the case with the information provided on data.gov.my.

"The shortfall is particularly acute in some subjects of national importance, including household income and expenditure, labour markets, firm-level surveys, and environment," it added.

Gerak urged the government to make robust and comprehensive progress in the open data initiative by ensuring data provided is complete, in its original form and accessible.

"Gerak trusts and hopes that, through the application of the three principles above, Malaysian researchers will be able to access public-funded datasets to contribute to our nation’s development," it said.

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