ISLAMABAD: As part of its effort to win back credibility for the numbers it produces, the government on Friday went ahead with a plan to revamp and consolidate its statistics-generating organisations under one roof: the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS).
PBS will be formed as a merger of the Federal Bureau of Statistics, the Population Census Organisation and Agriculture Census Organisation. All three currently fall under the Statistics Division of the government.
The consolidation is in compliance with the General Statistics Reorganisation Act of 2011, which was approved by parliament earlier this year.
PBS is meant to be an independent, autonomous statistics-producing entity, headed by the newly created position of chief statistician. A five-member committee has been constituted to search for a suitable candidate for the job, currently being filled in by Statistics Division Secretary Asif Bajwa.
“This would ensure transparency, autonomy and deliver authentic and acceptable figures,” said Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh while speaking to the media.
Yet the organisation is already arousing some controversy as the 11-member governing council of the PBS will be headed by the finance minister himself. Shaikh defended the decision, stating that the entire governing council would ensure transparency and independence and would make policy decisions.
Opponents of the decision point out that, given the finance ministry’s role in economic management, it cannot be involved in the affairs of autonomous institutions. Critics point out that the finance secretary’s presence on the State Bank of Pakistan’s policy board has often resulted in other members of the board feeling uncomfortable in expressing their views on the government’s decisions, such as changing benchmark interest rate or the amount of government borrowing from the banking system.
The fear is that the minister’s presence on the council would not improve the reliability of government data. Most experts routinely ignore government figures on unemployment and view those on poverty with deep scepticism. Many argue that successive governments have manipulated the numbers towards their own benefits. There have been allegations of misstated economic growth numbers during former president Pervez Musharraf’s administration.
To overcome this perception problem, the government has created a Users Council, which will comprise representatives of the users of government data from both the public and private sectors. It will include, for instance, the heads of planning and development in all provincial governments.
In addition to the finance minister, the council will include Gujrat University Vice Chancellor Muhammad Nizamuddin, former State Bank governor Shamshad Akhtar, Population Council Country Director Zeba A Sathar, Lahore School of Economics professor Naved Hamid, sociologist Mehtab Karim, former IMF official Mohsin Hasan Khan, Eshya Mujahid Mukhtar and Mehmood Khan.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 24th, 2011.