Structure of environmental data needs organising and future of environmental register needs resolving

Toomas Mattson | 11/27/2013 | 2:00 PM

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TALLINN, 27 November 2013 – The recently concluded audit by the National Audit Office revealed that in the audited scope, the state environmental information systems are generally able to provide the environmental authorities reliable and usable data for use. One exception was the Environmental Register that contained considerably more errors than the other registers.

Although this database, being the main register in the Ministry of the Environment, should be the most reliable one, it has not received the respective funding or development; taking into account all circumstances this register in its current state is probably not viable.
The Ministry of the Environment has no definite position regarding the future of the Environmental Register. In the opinion of the National Audit Office, the future of the Environmental Register should be decided as soon as possible.
The Ministry of the Environment uses the information systems quite well, for example for the purpose of assessing strategic goals; however, there is no sufficient analysis on the question which data are the most important for the users in making everyday decisions. The audit also showed that the current structure of the environment-related databases may allow for data errors and causes unnecessary loss of time for data processors.
Again, the problem is most evident in the Environmental Register – errors occur during the transfer of data from subsystems (mostly for technical reasons) and not all those errors can be identified during additional inspections. Unnecessary loss of time is also caused by the low level of automatisation of data collection processes of some environmental information systems (e.g. the Information System for Environmental Permits and the Land Cadastre). The environmental authorities are already dealing with this problem.
Although the environmental information necessary for the public (e.g. the quality of outdoor air and drinking water, restrictions regarding the plot, etc.) is mostly available, such information exists only for larger cities – elsewhere, it is simply not collected. In addition, it takes a considerable amount of time to find information (on average, 3.5 hours per object) and if standards are established for any environmental indicator (e.g. air quality), the people must often take time to find out what the standards are because they are not displayed with the information.
In developing environmental information systems, duplication of data collection has generally been avoided; however, not enough attention is paid to the sustainability of the systems. The opinion of the National Audit Office regarding public procurements is that they are organised correctly; however, in the case of systems that have been developed by a particular developer for years (the Land Cadastre, the Estonian Nature Information System), the Ministry should consider the risks related to the potential withdrawal of the developer more thoroughly. The fact that although the information security requirements were made compulsory several years ago, they are not met for most information systems, poses a problem as well.
The Ministry of the Environment generally accepted most of the recommendations while deeming it necessary to underline that no necessary data are collected in their area of government since the composition of the data is based on law, development plans and other documents. According to the Minister, several fundamental alterations are underway to improve the situation. One purpose of the establishment of the Environmental Agency and the IT Centre of the Ministry of the Environment is to ensure a more meaningful use of environmental data. The next step is to bring order to the data collection process and determine the structural units responsible for data collection. An analysis of a more logical structure of the Environmental Register is already underway.

Background

The purpose of the audit was to assess if the information systems in the area of government of the Ministry of the Environment and their development support a reliable, economic and sustainable collection and use of the environmental information. The National Audit Office reviewed 42 information systems established in the area of government of the Ministry of the Environment and gave a more thorough assessment on four of them: the Environmental Register, the Estonian Nature Information System, the Environmental Permits Information System and the Land Cadastre.

Toomas Mattson
Head of Communication Service, National Audit Office
+372 640 0777
+372 513 4900

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  • Posted: 11/27/2013 2:00 PM
  • Last Update: 9/25/2014 2:19 PM
  • Last Review: 9/25/2014 2:19 PM

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