National Treasury has been working in partnership with IMALI YETHU, the civil society organisation, to develop an easily accessible online Budget data portal. Through #Vulekamali, National Treasury seeks to entrench its commitment to transparency and Budget participation reforms.
Due to its openness, South Africa was recently ranked No1 on the 2017 Open Budget Index (OBI) - the country came first out of 115 countries.
The establishment of the Open Budget data portal is an extremely important step by the South African government. The step is important in terms of access to information and the future.
Through the portal, members of the public can access the government spending by various departments and provinces.
This is a huge step in the right direction when one considers that the opposite is a complete lack of access to this information.
With some governments, to get their financial information citizens have to go from pillar to post trying to get government financial data. This information is often hidden from the public and as a result citizens do not know when to raise concerns.
The portal is also designed to enable access to government finance datasets and APIs since 2007, which is another step in the right direction to enable development of financial information products.
Through these datasets an economy of FinTech (financial technology) could emerge. Data is the foundation for developing the digital economy. Young people in the FinTech space can use this data to create groundbreaking products that we can’t even imagine yet.
The launch of the Open Budget data portal was just the first step. The next phase will include local and internationally released data, such as data on GDP and International Monetary Fund world economic data and links to other already established databases and datasets provided by other national institutions.
According to the Vulekamali portal, Phase 3 will include wider government institutional information, including performance information and procurement information. There could be various sources of this data. Custodians are the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation (DPME), the Office of the Chief Procurement Officer (OCPO) and line departments.
Phase 4 of this process will include spatial data providing a view of Budget-related information at national, provincial, public entities and municipal levels across sectors by economic classification.
The only weakness of the #Vulekamali portal is still its accessibility. Although there are a few infographics on the portal, these could be better. Infographics are key in enabling access to information. A single picture illustrating a point is far better than a spreadsheet that has information. It should be possible for the man in the street to easily understand the information shared on the portal. Another accessibility issue with the portal relates to enabling access to the unconnected.
In South Africa, the majority of citizens still do not have access to the internet and therefore information that sits only on the internet is not accessible to all.
Future plans should include infographics that enable access to information and consider how the portal can bridge the digital divide by making it accessible off-line.
When Minister Malusi Gigaba looks back on his legacy at the National Treasury, the #Vulekamali Open Budget data portal will be one of his major contributions. The establishment of this data portal is not just important for access to information, it is also important for the future.
As we move towards the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a future that will be governed by robots, artificial intelligence and other ground-breaking technologies, data will prove to be the most important building block.
Whether the minister knows it or not, what the ministry has done with the establishment of the Open Budget portal is to pave the way for a robot finance minister driven by artificial intelligence. In future, artificial intelligence and robots will dominate society. However, their foundation will be data. The Open Budget data is the first step in creating a robot finance minister. Such a minister could complement the finance ministry by studying previous data sets and make recommendations about what the Budget should be to make a positive impact in the economy.
Recently, a Japanese venture capital firm called Deep Knowledge named an artificial intelligence (AI) to its board of directors. The robot, named Vital, was chosen for its ability to pick up on market trends “not immediately obvious to humans”.
Vital is an “equal member” of the Hong Kong-based group and the first-ever software program to be appointed as a board member.
As President Cyril Ramaphosa considers his new cabinet, he should consider a robot as a member of it. If not in this administration, he can perhaps set up building blocks now to have a robot as the future finance minister.
Wesley Diphoko is the Chief Innovation Officer at Sagarmatha Technologies and the founder of Kaya Labs. He spends his time developing building blocks for Silicon Africa and thinking about the Fourth Industrial Revolution in Africa.
- BUSINESS REPORT