Asif Bajwa is the Chief Statistician and Chief Census Commissioner at the PBS. He has earlier served as Secretary of the Statistics division as well as Secretary of Planning and Development division in Islamabad. Mr. Bajwa holds a LLB from University of Punjab; a MSc in Economics from University of South Wales, UK and a MSc in Defense & Strategic Studies from Quaid-e-Azam University Islamabad. In the beginning of his career, he has worked as a district level Magistrate and during the course of his professional tenure, he has served as the Administrator of Faisalabad; worked in various positions as government nominee director in the corporate sector, as well as positions within the Ministry of Finance.
BR Research recently sat down with him for a discussion on the Bureaus latest plans touching upon the upcoming Census exercise; rebasing of CPI and GDP; and the incorporation of rural-urban CPI as well as quarterly GDP by next year. Here are edited excerpts from the interview.
BR Research: Lets start from the Census of Manufacturing Industries (CMI). Why has it been pending for long and what is the PBS doing about it?
Asif Bajwa: After successfully holding the CMI in 2004, the PBS had tried to conduct that census again in 2011. But the response rate was very poor, to the extent that the PBS had to give it up. Back then, the methodology adopted was one in which we would give the forms to the Ministry of Industries, and they would post it to the respondents, some of whom responded back, whereas most of them did not.
After the 2011 saga, the PBS started updating its Business Register, based on data gathered from WAPDA, the SECP, provincial governments and so on. But for the purpose of CMI, this time around we are involving Ministry of Industries in different provinces in a different way.
For instance in Punjab, they have asked Punjab Urban Unit to do this exercise. And those guys went a step ahead, by taking the GPS coordinate at the time of giving the respondents the survey form. This way we will have the mapping of manufacturing industries. Their next job is to retrieve the form later, and for this purpose the PBS is paying them Rs600 for each properly filled form, which is sufficient incentive for them to get the form filled by the respondents.
BRR: What is the progress on the CMI so far?
AB: As of mid-March 2017, the forms for the CMI have been sent across the country. In Sindh and KP, the industries department is holding this exercise, whereas the labour department in doing this job in Balochistan. We expect to receive back the filled questionnaires in three months, after which we will process it, and by the end of calendar year 2017, we will have the results of the CMI.
In addition to the CMI, we are also doing a Management and Operational Practises Survey (MOPS), the results of which are expected to be released along with the CMI. In Punjab, we had conducted MOPS last year with the collaboration of the State Bank of Pakistan(SBP), and we found out that just by adopting modern management practises, firms could achieve an efficiency gain of 9-10 percent.
BRR: What has been the progress on the CPI rebasing so far?
AB: In addition to the usual exercise of re-basing, this time around we are also working on the rural CPI because economists and researchers have long been saying that the CPI has an urban bias. To remove that bias we will now be releasing a rural CPI, an urban CPI and a total CPI. The list of items for the CPI baskets has been identified with the help of expert consultations and Household Integrated Expenditure Survey. One item that should be of particular interest is that this time around we have also included food away from home in the CPI basket. A comparative series is in the making and we plan to formally announce the rebased CPI along with rural-urban CPI by June 2017.
BRR: Census is a sensitive subject since population is linked to political and economic distribution in various shapes and forms. Is there a way to depoliticise the census?
AB: Pakistan is not unique to this problem. India had also faced these sensitivities but they went about it in a sensible manner. In 1975, they decided that the population ratio, as per their 1971 census, will remain fixed for the next 60 years. Initially they had frozen the ratio till the year 2000, and then they passed a constitutional amendment to keep it frozen till the 2031 census.
BRR: Leading Pakistani economists question the sagacity of current definition of urban and rural arguing that the definition should take into account white goods ownership, roads, transport, education, etcetera. Are you taking that insight into account?
AB: They are right. Urbanisation is growing in Pakistan but we have not expanded administrative boundaries accordingly. However, it is not my mandate to declare which area is rural or urban. According to the law, it is the mandate of the provincial and local governments to identify which area is urban and which is rural. As a person in charge of census, I can only use official classifications of urban and rural as reported by provincial and local governments.
Having said that, I must point out that two years ago we had organised an international seminar where we invited local and international scholars to help define what is urban. And no consensus definition came out of that seminar. The thing is that even international definitions vary too much. In the United States for instance, the definition is showing signs of urbanisation which means if an area has water supply and sewerage, it is an urban area. In other countries, an urban area is defined as an area which has a population of 5000 or above.
BRR: But what if any province redefines urban area after CPI rebasing and the census; how will that impact rural CPI and census results?
AB: In the case of rural CPI, the PBS is already taking small areas that are very far from being described as rural. But we can always take a new area if the provincial and local governments re-define urban and rural areas. In the case of census, the PBS is using a fixed block system, which means we will be collecting and disseminating the data on block basis. And if tomorrow urban/rural areas are reclassified, then we can easily shift the block along with its data to the new classification.
BRR: Form 2A of the census has been at the centre of controversy lately. How would you respond to that?
AB: Form 2A has four areas: fertility, disability, unemployment, and migration. In the first place the collection of data under Form 2A was initially a survey-based exercise rather than a census-based exercise.
Moreover, since we have the army in phases and in certain periods of time, we realised that we cannot fill out form 2A in that short time since these four heads have upto 15 questions; which requires time. This is why the Council of Common Interests decided that we do this (2A) in the form of survey rather than make it a part of the census. We plan to touch over a million households in the form of survey, which would be representative at district level. However, since this week the Lahore High Court and the Supreme Court have decided that total count of the disabled should also be made a part of the census, that information will be collected by the census enumerators.
BRR: What is the cost of the census?
AB: Given the importance of census and its wider economic and social returns, it has to be done, even fiscal costs are high. The current estimated cost is about Rs18.5 billion; the final number will be shared once the census is over.
BRR: In the wake of devolution and signs of political competition, dont you think the PBS needs to work on disaggregated statistics such as provincial GDP, CPI etcetera?
AB: It is the job of the provincial statistics department. They should do it.
BRR: But they complain that the PBS doesnt share the detailed national accounts datasets?
AB: They already have the data. How can the PBS make national accounts without data from provincial bureau of statistics? If the provincial bureaus of statistics want any technical support, then we are always here.
BRR: Economists have long been concerned about the under-estimation of Pakistans GDP. The central bank had recently highlighted how the LSM index doesnt fully reflect the economy; whereas the likes of noted economist Shahid Javed Burki say that Pakistans GDP is under-estimated by about 25 percent.
AB: I have spoken to Mr. Burki and my understanding is that 25 percent underestimation is his finger on the pulse; it is his feeling, he may be wrong or he may be right. The PBS follows the UNs SNA 2008 to the extent that we can. For instance, our government doesnt follow accrual based accounting, so we dont follow that part of the SNA 2008.
However, these concerns, including the concerns over LSM highlighted by the central bank, will be taken into account as we are in the process of rebasing the GDP. We are also planning to hold an integrated agriculture survey for which we have already done the pilot in Sahiwal on tablets. And this is an integrated survey, which means we have inquired about agriculture, livestock, and agri-machinery.
BRR: When will the rebasing completed and when do you plan to re-launch the quarterly GDP?
AB: Rebasing of the GDP is planned to be completed by the end of calendar year 2018, and the quarterly GDP can be re-launched after the launch of rebased GDP.