Last update: Mon, 08 Feb 2016 04am
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In stats we trust

‘We are not BBA students that we should be told about the elementary level definitions, calculation and importance of basic economic statistics frequently disseminated by government bodies,’ more than one middle management finance professionals complained about the “soporific presentations” at a recently held seminar organised by the central bank.

But since the seminar – titled Contributions and Achievements of Official Statistics – was the first of its kind, perhaps the elementary level discussion, was rightly warranted.  In any case, the high level of participation – at least in the pre-lunch session – was quite remarkable, and shows the hunger for statistical clarity on the part of the users of these official numbers.

And for these stats loving observers of business & economy there is going to be plenty of good news this year. The “rebasing of national accounts is due to be announced in two weeks time”, according to Asif Bajwa, Federal Secretary Statistics Division Asif; the housing census is going to be started in April, whereas the population census is planned to be commenced in August/September.

On top of that, quarterly national accounts are also planned to be prepared beginning the quarter ending September. The publication of these accounts is one of the many obligations that Pakistan must fulfil under the globally accepted standards. The icing on the top is likely passing of the new statistics law that will combine the government’s statistical bodies into one autonomous body, with academia as well as the central bank on its board.

And since the government is finally on to the documentation reform, a couple of things that ought to be done in tandem with other measures.

One, is the digitisation of database. It is a sigh inducing factor to find out that this year’s census would be paper-based, whereas the one recently conducted by Bangladesh – a LDC country – was done with the help of digital tablets.

Two, in the post-NFC Pakistan, the provincial governments should shape up their act and get their respective provincial accounts together. It is disheartening to note that Punjab is the only province that has ever done an economic survey.

“We do not know the size of gross capital formation and its components in Sindh. We do not know how much private and public saving is generated in this province…..we have no estimates of gross capital stock or its sectoral distribution in the province. These are very serious limitations which in a way restrict the scope of policy formulation and implementation,” noted the economists at the Institute of Business Management, in their 2010-study of Sindh’s economy.

The state of other provinces is no different, and therefore, arrangements should be made for acquiring province specific data – failure to do so can lead to unrealistic policy formulation.

Then, of course, is the issue of reliability has to be resolved – especially in the case of the largely undocumented, agriculture and livestock sector, that gives plenty of room to mandarins to pick and chose a number of their choice.

On a separate note, the practical relevance of the data has to be ensured; for instance to this date, the cell phone rates don’t form a part of CPI inflation basket, despite about a 100 million subscribers.

Lastly, a culture of documentation must developed by means of eradicating corruption and by making statistics mainstream at university level education, or as Bajwa aptly said, “ we have to make statistics fashionable”.