Is Padu a solution for policy makers?

Lim Chee Han

The government has launched a central database hub, called Padu, to aid in policymaking. – The Malaysian Insight file pic, January 15, 2024.

PADU, the central database hub, was launched on January 2. 

Have you registered?

Perhaps a more pertinent question is, why would you bother to register, given that registration is not compulsory?

With the incentives and narrative put forward by the government, if you come from a B40 household and are currently receiving aid or welfare benefits from the government, you may feel more compelled to register, driven by the fear of losing such aid or benefits.

However, Padu has been described as having far more functions than just targeted subsidies.

Officially, Padu is a database of individual and household profiles of citizens and permanent residents in Malaysia. 

The stated objectives are to provide a national database hub that is secure, comprehensive and “near real-time” for regular analysis, to provide the basis for evidence-based policy and decision making, and to enable the implementation of targeted policies including the disbursement of aid and subsidies.

It also aims to collate and integrate data from more than 455 government departments and agencies from all levels of government into this Padu, as it is a centralised system for all references to an individual.

Scary as it is, whether you register or not, if the government is indeed able to integrate data from all its departments and agencies, they would already know a lot about you from the common identifiers such as ID card numbers and name.

In fact, it baffles me why the system still requires new users to register and fill in a lot of information that the government should already have about the person.

For example, basic personal information could have been obtained from the National Registration Department; financial and income data from the Inland Revenue Board; and some census-like questions normally collected by the Department of Statistics (DOSM).

It could be argued that perhaps many of the lower-income households do not have a tax account with the Inland Revenue Board and therefore no official records of their income, nor are all population reachable by the DOSM.

However, there are concerns that some people may “cheat” or under-report their income in order to qualify for certain subsidies or benefits.

How reliable and accurate is the information entered voluntarily by people who have a clear interest and motivation to report only favourable information?  How good is the system for verifying the information provided?

In the event of a conflict, which version of the information should prevail? Can anyone really “update” their latest information via Padu, does this mean that it overwrites the records held by the relevant authority?

What about remote communities, can the government regularly contact these people to “update” the database?

On the other hand, if Padu is perceived as a system for low-income people to get subsidies and welfare benefits, what is in it for the T20 or T1 to register? Why should they bother?

Should they instead be worried that they have under-reported or reported something undeclared to the Inland Revenue Board and that could get them into trouble?

My question is, with so much uncertainty about Padu, should Padu be the only system that the authority or administrator relies on or refers to when it comes to distributing public resources?

What does it say about evidence-based policy making if the database is filled with data inaccuracies and information gaps, especially regarding the dropping out of marginalised communities and high-income individuals?

It seems to me that the Padu portal is currently only interested in taking information from the users and giving nothing back.

I urge the government to consider allowing the public to access the database and use the anonymised data for policy, academic or socio-economic research.

Let the database be useful and meaningful to the general public, not just to government officials.

The government should have enacted the framework for data regulation, such as the Omnibus Bill, before rushing to launch Padu.

This is about the integrity of data governance, not just who are the responsible parties created and operate the system.

Without first addressing this concern, it is no wonder that the public and influencers are sceptical and distrustful of the government’s latest public data exercise. – January 15, 2024.

* Lim Chee Han is a founding member of Agora Society and a policy researcher. He holds a PhD in infection biology from Hannover Medical School, Germany, and an MSc in immunology and BSc in biotechnology from Imperial College London. Health and socioeconomic policies are his concerns. He believes a nation can advance significantly if policymaking and research are taken seriously.

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