Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics lags behind in stats

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China has not projected its GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth rate target in the current fiscal year. The Chinese government made the announcement in May as it could not ascertain which way the economy would go amid the novel coronavirus pandemic. Still, the National Bureau of Statistics of China calculated its quarterly GDP.

China’s GDP in the January-March quarter this year shrunk in comparison to the corresponding period of the previous year. The growth in that quarter decreased by 6.8 per cent compared to the corresponding period of the earlier year. Still, the country wants to know the actual data to keep track of its economic condition.

Neighbouring India also calculates its GDP in every three months. Various developed countries like the US, UK also calculate their GDP quarterly. Unlike those countries, Bangladesh calculates its GDP once in a year. As a result, though the country suffered a big blow because of coronavirus in the last quarter of the last fiscal year, the actual picture was not reflected in its estimation of GDP growth.

According to a provisional calculation of the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS), the country attained 5.24 growth rate in the outgoing 2019-20 fiscal. Economists and research organisations said the GDP calculation did not reflect the actual economic fallout of COVID-19 pandemic. That is why they questioned the growth rate as well as the competence of the bureau of statistics.

How can we get the actual picture? The answer is to calculate GDP quarterly like India, China and other developed countries.

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BBS sources said the organisation planned to estimate quarterly GDP around 3-4 years ago. A concept paper was prepared with the help of SR Osmani, professor of developmental economics at Ulster University, UK. An initiative was also taken for calculating GDP considering 2015-16 fiscal as the base year. There has been no progress on the matter since then. The planning ministry is yet to give approval to the proposal. The quarterly calculation of GDP has, however, been proposed in the draft of the 8th five-year plan.

He further said it is not that there are no efficient people in BBS. But it lacks efficient leadership. They are not professional

BBS once used to calculate district-wise GDP but that was scrapped around two decades ago.

Speaking to Prothom Alo, economist Zahid Hussain said, “There’s no demand for quarterly GDP calculation from the planners. As a result, the BBS officials are not interested. If the planners do not ask for updated data, then data will be prepared on political grounds and nepotism. The same is happening in case of measuring poverty and the job market.”

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He said it is not that there are no efficient people in BBS. But it lacks efficient leadership. They are not professional.

BBS could not do any survey on the labour force over the last three years. The Quarterly Labour Force Survey (QLFS) was stopped after it was conducted in 2015-16 and 2016-17 fiscal. BBS had sent a proposal to the planning ministry about conducting the QLFS but it got stuck there for three years. Recently, the ministry sent the file to BBS asking for details on some issues.

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The number of people who lost jobs because of coronavirus in the April to June quarter could have been estimated if the Quarterly Labour Force Survey continued. Experts claimed a large number of people lost jobs in that span of time.

The bureau of statistics conducts household income and expenditure survey in every five years. The last one was done in 2016 and the next survey will be done in 2021. Surveys conducted by different non-government research organisations revealed that poverty rate has increased in April to June. But BBS, the only source of the Bangladesh government’s data and information, did not conduct any such study. As a result, it does not have any actual and updated data on the rise of number of poor people. BBS sources said it has been planning to conduct a survey on poverty and labour force shortly.

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BBS also does not have any statistics on the income, expenditure and lifestyle of poor and rich people of the country. In 2013, a four-year project was taken up for preparing National Household Database. The database could not be prepared as yet. No data was collected from the field-level either. The tenure of the project has been extended until 2021. The database could have helped the government reaching the actual victims of coronavirus with cash assistance.

Former secretary of statistics and information management division Riti Ibrahim told Prothom Alo that the statistics and information management division should be abolished. The task of this division seems only to bar all the initiatives of BBS. There is no one to guide BBS. It should be instilled with professionalism. It has a relatively low number of statisticians. There should be more statisticians at BBS.

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Sources said most of the surveys of BBS are project-based. It does not get enough budget to conduct surveys regularly. At the same time, it takes one to two years to publish the results of field-level data. By that time, those become obsolete. The bureau also has lack of human resources.

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Speaking to Prothom Alo, member of the General Economics Division of the planning commission Shamsul Alam said, “The lack of data affects the planning the most. proper planning cannot be done without state-of-the-art data. BBS provides data that is 3 to 4 years old and the situation changes by that time.”

* The report, originally published in the print edition of Prothom Alo, has been rewritten in English by Shameem Reza