Good planning requires accurate data

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Accurate and reliable data on a population are necessary for good planning and effective decision-making in a country. FILE PHOTO: AFP

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Accurate and reliable data on a population are necessary for good planning and effective decision-making in a country. FILE PHOTO: AFP

According to government statistics, the population of Bangladesh is now 165 million. The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has just completed its Population and Housing Census Survey 2022 and announced these figures in Dhaka on July 27. According to the report, the population growth rate is 1.22%, compared to 1.47% in 2011. census.

As with any major development, there is a good and a bad side to the latest data released by the government. On the positive side, our rapid population growth, which was a cause for concern in the past, appears to have slowed down over the past decade. This reinforces the government’s claim that our GDP per capita has grown to over $2,500, as frequently mentioned by our political leaders. On the other hand, the numbers are lower than those predicted by the latest UN estimate, which projected a population of 171 million. What is the implication of this underestimation on budget allocations for health, education and social protection programs? Will this lead to reduced spending in these areas?

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What this discrepancy between official figures and estimates provided by non-governmental sources indicates is a common phenomenon observed in many developing countries – namely which figures are the most accurate and reflect the real situation in a country. For example, our GDP growth rate, inflation rate, foreign exchange reserves, national debt and energy insecurity have come under intense scrutiny over the past few months, and government figures are openly disputed.

I can go on and on about the conflicting stories emerging from statistics released by government agencies and the grim predictions emerging from various watchdogs. The Prime Minister in a recent speech indicated that Bangladesh is self-sufficient in the energy sector and meets gasoline and octane needs from its own productions. According to a news headline, the prime minister said the country has far more petrol and octane in reserve than is needed. “It is true that Bangladesh needs to import diesel. But it does not import gasoline and octane because the country gets them as by-products of gas extraction,” she said. declared.

The truth is that petroleum and octane are not by-products of gas. Octane is refined petroleum and petroleum is an energy source independent of gas. Fifty-seven percent of our total energy needs come from gas. The country’s liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) needs are largely met by imports.

Similarly, foreign exchange reserve data has come under scrutiny following its decision to seek loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) last month. Bangladesh has become the latest South Asian country to ask for help as more expensive oil eats away at the region’s currency stocks. Bangladesh’s foreign exchange reserves fell to $39.79 billion as of July 13 from $45.33 billion a year earlier. This is enough to cover about four months of imports, slightly more than the IMF’s recommended three-month cover. According to various independent economists, actual reserves could be $7.2 billion lower than official claims due to prior commitments, and this has been pointed out by international financial institutions.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has in the past unequivocally emphasized the need for reliable data for evidence-based policy-making. He then also highlighted the “challenges encountered in collecting, processing, analyzing and disseminating reliable, timely, accessible and sufficiently disaggregated data” and its vital role in sound decision-making.

Unfortunately, governments often don’t like evidence coming to light that shows official data is inaccurate or outright wrong. Nor do those in power want the public to question the veracity of “success stories” or news flashes touting the “rapid economic growth” achieved under his leadership.

As I singled out China in one of my previous comments on this issue, I would be remiss if I did not also mention that the leaders of that country, which now has the world’s second largest economy, not only disapproved of any – based on reporting on politics, civil society and sensitive historical events of the past, but also increasingly trying to keep negative news about the economy secret. Even the US government, which prides itself on promoting an open society around the world, is no exception. Just to give you an example of double talk at the highest levels of the US government, President Joe Biden said earlier this month that “inflation is unacceptably high, but not as bad as it looks. ” in the USA.

Recently, stories have surfaced that China has cooked up GDP and investment growth data in the past. His government sent a directive to journalists in China identifying six economic topics that would be “handled” by the government. The list of topics includes: i) Worse than expected data that could show the economy is slowing; ii) Risks related to local government debt; iii) The impact of the trade war with the United States; iv) Signs of declining consumer confidence; v) The risks of stagflation or rising prices coupled with a slowdown in economic growth; and vi) “Burning questions to show the difficulties of people’s lives.” I quote this list in detail to alert my discerning readers that they should take all public statements with a grain of salt.

I will end this brief note with a quick observation on the importance of the role of independent or “third party” sources of accurate and reliable data on GDP, market conditions in a country, and the economic well-being of the masses. An economy that has no independent data source can be compared to an airplane flying without its speed sensors. The analogy was drawn by Aidan Eyakuze, the executive director of Twaweza, a nonprofit research organization in Tanzania, in a critique of his government’s actions a few years ago to silence those who questioned ” publications” of official data. “Without the airspeed reading, the computer systems failed and the pilots, literally flying data blind, were unable to regain control of the aircraft,” he said. he writes, referring to a crashed airliner. A government that relies exclusively on its own agencies to provide the data and statistics it uses for planning and decision-making lives in a fool’s paradise and can veer off course, running into waters turbulent earlier than others, as the recent experience of Sri Lanka amply illustrates.

Dr Abdullah Shibli is an economist and works for Change Healthcare, Inc., an information technology company. He is also a Senior Research Fellow at the US-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (ISDI).

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