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“Wonderful news on the inflation front” and other message son similar lines were aplenty last Friday when the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) published February CPI inflation numbers. It is indeed a relief for the masses who have faced relentless increase in consumer prices for well over a year. Forget the base effect and the fact that inflation has remained north of 20 percent for 20 straight months – doing it wrong does take the sheen away and does not resonate with ground reality.

Not that anyone seems to really care, but the PBS keeps treating the energy inflation wrong – month after month. Giving the benefit of doubt that there is no ill intent, as there have been instances of miscalculating the consumer end price on the higher end – getting it consistently wrong is a big worry. (See: Gas tariffs: Did the PBS get it wrong again? Published December 11, 2023).

After January 2024’s gross understatement of electricity price change – February’s is much of the same –though this time around is the treatment of gas prices that goes awry.

Putting things in context, the PBS calculated gas price too have gone up by 10 percent month-on-month in February 2024. Recall that the government has recently increased gas tariffs across categories with effect from February 2024. This time around, even the protected consumer category underwent a substantial increase in variable charges unlike the previous exercise in November 2023 (see: Gas tariffs: No protection for protected, published February 21, 2024)

The Ministry of Energy maintains that the protected domestic gas consumer category alone accounts for no less than 57 percent of all domestic consumers. The protected category, by that logic, would account for the bottom three quintiles – where the average increase month-on-month is no less than 20 percent. The increase for the next two quintiles also falls in the range of 18-20 percent. This means the month-on-month increase in gas rates should have been calculated at 20 percent – instead of the reported 10 percent.

How does the PBS gets it wrong is anyone’s guess. That it does not bother correcting or even countering claims of false reporting is very unfortunate.

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