The official asset disclosure system of politically exposed people (PEP) in Armenia was a website of thousands of disorganized, unsearchable, non-machine-readable files where finding information, combining and drawing comparisons was challenging not only for taxpayers but also for journalists. This project has created a website called data.hetq.am which is an organized, searchable, downloadable and interactive database of PEPs’ asset and income declarations which is a useful tool to increase the public interest towards accountable governance in Armenia. Additionally, we mapped PEPs’ affiliates by combining voters registry, companies registry data, as well as information from social networks.
Data.hetq.am contains almost 2500 profiles of PEPs from Armenia’s legislative (206), executive (214) and judiciary (576) powers as well as their affiliates (1494). We mainly receive feedback from politically exposed people included in the database.
In addition to the database, the website has an articles section where stories about PEPs’ suspicious assets are published. Data.hetq.am has received feedback and clarifications from the officials about whom the articles were published. For example, in an article about Bagrat Adamyan, the Deputy Head of the General Department of Special Investigation Service and Election Crimes Investigation Department, it was described that he bought an apartment worth 50,000 USD when his declared funds did not exceed 10,000 USD. After the publication of the article Bagrat Adamyan contacted data.hetq.am and clarified that there was a mistake in the asset and income declaration form, and he purchased the apartment on a mortgage loan.
Data.hetq.am has received feedback from the journalistic community as well. On September 27, 2019, during the local “Tvapatum (Digistory) – Stories About Change 2019” awards ceremony Honorable Mention went to data.hetq.am for covering the assets of Armenian government officials and persons linked to them.
We developed scripts to scrape the information from PDFs and non-machine-readable files of the official asset disclosure website (ethics.am) and convert it into open data. Meanwhile, we used programming languages and web design techniques to publish the database in visually appealing ways. Each official has their profile at data.hetq.am, with their biography, affiliate map, cash schedule, movable and immovable property, as well as information on securities, loans, real estate, and income.
At the top of the website’s home page, there is a search box and classification filters. We can go to a specific official’s profile by writing the name in the search box. If we are interested not only in one person but in the trends, we need to use filters. There are four filters: it’s possible to filter down the information by year, by income, by connection count, by cash, by ascending or descending order. All features on the website are reusable which means that our fellow journalists can simply copy the embed code and place it on their websites.
What was the hardest part of this project?
Facebook Graph Search was a great help for the team to quickly and accurately indicate PEPs’ affiliated people. However, in June 2019 Graph Search was withdrawn by Facebook. After that, twice as much time is needed to get the same findings because most of the operations previously done by the algorithm are now being done manually.
Another limitation was the incompleteness of officially published Asset and Income Declaration Forms that prevented the integration of a statistical formula calculating the transparency rate of PEPs’ assets. It was planned to develop a formula to count the transparency rate of officials based on their asset and income declarations. The formula could work if complete, accurate and enough amount of data was inserted. Unfortunately, some of the public officials failed to submit complete asset declarations as a result of which the team decided not to calculate PEPs’ transparency rate.
What can others learn from this project?
By creation and promotion of data.hetq.am project, we put the idea of open data and PEP accountability into the discussion in a country where most of the state institutions do not keep, organize and analyze reliable data. We have received numerous questions from politicians asking why do we collect and publish data about them. We patiently explained to them the importance of open data in establishing accountable governance.
Besides, the team regularly presents data.hetq.am and the idea of open data in secondary schools, colleges, as well as in different professional meetings with fellow journalists, international organizations and policymakers. Data.hetq.am has been presented during one of the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project’s (OCCRP) conferences, also at CFI Media Development Forum in Paris.