The calculations of gross domestic product need qualitative change to help policymakers take pragmatic steps based on credible data, says the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD), reiterating its call for a more empowered BBS and formation of an independent statistical commission for data integrity.
There has always been debate on GDP figures due to flaws in collection of data by various government agencies and the ongoing pandemic has made it more evident now than ever before, the think tank pointed out at a virtual briefing arranged on Sunday to register its reservations about official growth estimates.
The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) on August 10 revealed its estimates that the country's economic growth would be 5.24 percent in the 2019-20 fiscal year that ended in July amid the peak of Covid-19 pandemic.
The CPD defended its earlier projection of 2.5 percent GDP growth.
Flawed calculation method and lack of real time data on economic activities from various government agencies led the BBS to come up with hard-to-believe growth figures, it said.
"It is not right to put all the blame on the BBS. It is a reflection of political attitude. Policymakers need to realise that credible data is good for them in the long run," said Professor Mustafizur Rahman, distinguished fellow of CPD.
Despite its limitations, Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) remains the lone national institution capable of collecting nationwide data, but the official statistical agency needs empowerment and scope to work independently, he said.
"We also need an independent commission to ensure data integrity," Prof Mustafizur added.
Prof Mustafiz said, "The BBS data do not reflect reality. We hope to see actual data in its final figure. BBS has the institutional capacity to provide accurate data but it can't do so for various reasons. So, an independent commission is needed to provide proper data and opinion to inform the country's overall economic situation."
"We'll get accurate data on our economy if BBS works properly as it has institutional capacity. Now an independent commission is needed for this," he added.
The CPD also asked the BBS to make background data and calculation available for GDP and other indicators for transparency and better accountability.
CPD Executive Director Dr Fahmida Khatun said BBS calculations of GDP have got three inherent weaknesses: summing up of whole year's projections without having reliable data for the last quarter, not having updated data on many important sectors and failing to reflect Covid-19 impacts though it started being felt since March.
"Framing a pragmatic policy is not possible based on fragmented data," she felt.
Dr Khondaker Golam Moazzem, research director of CPD, explained how BBS data on private investment growth widely differed with economic reality of the pandemic time. "We want to state that realistic data helps the government to take proper policy steps to help economy recover. We could have presented our real scenario during the period of coronavirus, there was no need for confusing figures," he added.
He cited instances of independent statistical commission in countries including South Africa, a stutory body accountable only to parliament, not the government.
"Statistics should not be seen as a byproduct. Policymakers need to realise that quality data plays a positive role in devising ways out of shocks like the Covid-19," said Dr Tawfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow of CPD.
For quality data, GDP estimations need to be made on quarterly basis as in many other economies and it will help make necessary adjustments in every quarter, he suggested.
"At the same time, region-based calculations are needed instead of the one for the whole country. It will help reduce regional disparity," Dr Towfiqul said. Region-based calculations had been in practice until 2001, he added, questioning the rationality of stopping it.
Instead of blaming the BBS, there is an urgent need to empower the institution with necessary financial support, human resources and logistics, he said.
A 2013 law tasked the BBS with overseeing the data provided by other government agencies and the statistical agency needs to get enough supports to perform its responsibility independently, he said.