On the usefulness of Akoma Ntoso

There's been very few laws that I followed closely, but all of them had a direct impact on my life, so I took this seriously. I didn't actually follow laws, but rather legislative processes because I either wanted a change or I was averse to it. In both cases, the object of interest was not a law itself, but its evolution.

You should already know that most laws are hand-crafted patches applied to previous laws. There are virtually no laws that are written from scratch, one notable exception is the constitution. Other laws refer to past laws.

For example, today's law that extends the powers of the Belgian intelligence service is a patch applied to the law that created the service in 1996, and it says literally this:

  • Go the the article 3 of the past law and append this extra paragraph
  • commit your changes in the legislative branch
  • push to the executive branch

If you go and search for the original law, you won't find it that easily, because laws were digitized back to 1998, while the original law dates from 1996. If you are lucky, you'll have free online access to the so-called 'consolidated' version of the law. That is, a version with all the patches applied. However:

  • you usually have to pay to get fast access to consolidated versions
  • consolidated versions have no legal value
  • if you do not look at patches, you miss the big picture of the legislative process.

So, whenever I had to follow a legislative process, I did as follows:

  • get the original law
  • manually apply all the patches
    • while applying each patch, look at external sources of information, e.g. parliamentary debates and parliamentary questions to understand the stakes and learn the names of stakeholders
  • produce the consolidated version together with meta-information on patch authors and political discussions around each patch

I believe that professional lobbyists do exactly the same thing — stitching together pieces of information to reconstruct the legislative process, identify stakeholders and pressure points.

Anything that will make the work described above more transparent and less tedious will add to government transparency and will improve citizen participation.

From what I understand, Akoma Ntoso has no objective to formalize the legislative process, it is just an export format that for making a snapshot of the current legislation.  Laws in Akoma Ntoso format can be easily inserted into triple stores and playing with these triple stores can be a reasonable topic for many EU Priorities 2020 projects, but I don't see how Akoma Ntoso and similar projects can solve my problems and I don't see what other real-world problem they can solve.