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Friday, 28 February 2014

Broken Statistics in Zambia

I know I have said this before but there's a big problem in Zambia when it comes to data and public policy debate.

The Central Statistics Office (CSO) which we all rely on for information is politically captured. It is not an independent statistical authority. All their data collection and activities are not protected by any credible parliamentary statute. The man in charge is not independently appointed. He is not even subject to parliament.

How do we know that the data we are looking at has not been tempered with? Who checks on the CSO? Who ratifies the appointment of those in charge? Why are we all quiet on this cardinal issue? How can we be confident about our data?

If we take GDP. There are basic international standards on how GDP is calculated both in terms of economic text book definitions but also in terms of detail. These are well known to national statistical bodies. The problem in Zambia is that without statistical independence we cannot be confident of the numbers. The same with every indicator!

When are we as a people going to deal with this important issue? We cannot have a proper debate about the future of the country if the data is highly suspect. The politicians have a huge incentive to manipulate data and direct it as they see fit. And at present they can do that because the CSO is not an independent organisation.

In general the way the CSO is run currently is a complete shambles. The time has surely come to review our statistics and put in place a more independent statistical authority's em  with competent officials. There should also be greater emphasis in producing regional figures and more regular publication of independently verified employment and inflation statistics. 

Please this issue has nothing to do with the Constitution. Tomorrow we can have an independent statistical authority with clear guidelines on how data is released to the public and who should see it. We can have clarity on how people are appointed there and their responsibility to Parliament. It simply needs an Act of Parliament.

Follow the debate on the issue via Facebook.

Chola Mukanga | Economist 
Copyright © Zambian Economist 2014

1 comment:

  1. Is the GDP reported less than actual, about right or more than actual.

    Certain international standards or rather recommendations apply to the figure given on GDP. E.g. deficit borrowing per annum; total debt burden etc.

    It would seem that if the GDP is less than actual then the borrowing level would not be so serious. But the problem is that the borrowing level against the reported level is serious. I am not using this as a reason for the GDP to be inflated so that more borrowing can take place or that civil servant wages be further increased by large percentages in one year.

    It would seem that the GDP reported is about right or already overstated because if understated then the country would appear more wealthy than it does.

    Worthwhile to see any revision of the GDP of other places and what happened in such economies.


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