When statistics are manipulated

Dhaka,  Fri,  22 September 2017
Published : 18 May 2017, 21:32:09

When statistics are manipulated

Attempts to manipulate inflation-related data, in fact, do not carry any meaning since the consumers do always feel the pinch of price rise, no matter what the official statistics say, writes S.H. Zahid
There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics. This is the phrase that was attributed by American writer, humorist and entrepreneur Mark Twain to 19th century British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli. However, there exists certain element of uncertainty over the origin of the phrase since there were alternative attributions. 

It now matters little to whom the phrase belonged. The fact remains that the phrase has got damn popularity because it highlights the credibility gap of statistics, official or otherwise. The phrase tends to say that statistics can be transformed into lies of extreme nature when abused or manipulated. 

Since the time humans started counting things, manipulation or wrong presentation of statistics had begun. Data and statistics are abused in different forms to lend support of arguments in different fields and claims made by governments and others to highlight achievements or hide facts. 

Many developing and least developed countries are believed to be involved in an offence such as manipulation of statistics. Hence official statistics of these countries are taken with a few grains of salt. Developed countries too are not also immune to it. The collapse of Enron, Worldcom, Lehman Brothers and many more in recent times had shaken the global corporate world. 

In recent years Bangladesh economy has been performing well and the achievements are recognised internationally. Yet multilateral institutions have on occasions raised questions about the quality of official statistics. The government, however, has demonstrated complete faith in macroeconomic and sectoral data, gathered and computed by the national statistical organization, the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). Not just the international organisation reputed economists at home, from time to time, also have expressed their reservations about the quality of official statistics. But in the absence of alternative sources of credible data they could not press much on this issue.  

Yet mismatch between projections made by the government and multilateral institutions about major macro-economic indicators have surfaced, particularly in the projection of GDP (gross domestic product) growth rates. 

A case in point is the latest GDP growth rate estimates made by the government and the World Bank (WB) for the ongoing fiscal year. Incidentally, both the projections were released for public consumption on the same day. Planning Minister AHM Mustafa Kamal, while unveiling the growth data, claimed that GDP would grow at a rate of 7.24 per cent in the fiscal year 2017. 

The WB country office at a press briefing in Dhaka estimated the growth rate at 6.8 per cent, 0. 3 per cent lower than the previous fiscal. The Bank blamed the declining remittance and export earnings for 'denting resilience' of Bangladesh economy.  

The planning minister preferred to keep silent on the WB projections. But while speaking at a business dialogue organised by the Dhaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) on Wednesday last, he dismissed an allegation of GDP data manipulation. . 

But the fact remains the government's growth estimates do not match, at least, with the investment-GDP ratio which has been almost stagnant in recent years. The government estimates the investment-GDP ratio to be 30.27 per cent this fiscal, a mere 0.62 increase over that of the last financial year. With remittance and exports showing a declining trend, such low investment growth is not enough to fuel any substantial economic growth. It is, however, widely admitted that the current economic growth is largely a consumption-led one. 

No government likes to release data that are unpalatable and go against its interest. The unveiling of inflation data is a case in point. Until last month the planning minister used to release data on monthly basis. This time the planning minister has unveiled the quarterly one, for, those serves the government's purposes better. Inflation went up in March because of the rising prices of both food and non-food items. The situation is unlikely to change for the better in April also. Attempts to manipulate inflation-related data, in fact, do not carry any meaning since the consumers do always feel the pinch of price rise, no matter what the official statistics say.  


Editor : A.H.M Moazzem Hossain
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