Statistics are being secretly manipulated and controlled in Bangladesh. Official figures bear no semblance to ground reality. The data provided by the government is outdated and misleading. This hampers proper policy making and also curbs public confidence in the government.
These observations were made by speakers on Thursday at a dialogue on 'Challenges of Improving Fiscal Data for Policy Making in Bangladesh'.
The dialogue was organised jointly by the non-government think-tank Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) and Asia Foundation at a hotel in the city.
The dialogue, moderated by CPD distinguished fellow Debapriya Bhattacharya, was also addressed by CPD chairman and eminent economist Rehman Sobhan, member of the parliamentary standing committee on public accounts Abdus Shahid, head of the parliamentary standing committee on the ministry for environment, forests and climate change Saber Hossain Chowdhury, Kazi Nabil Ahmed MP, Shameem Haider Patwary MP, former chief economist of the World Bank in Dhaka Zahid Hossain and others.
CPD senior research fellow Towfiqul Islam Khan presented the key note.
The quality of information must be improved. As a representative of the people, if I do not have access to information, how can I say 'yes' in parliament?Saber Hossain Chowdhury MP
Speaking at the dialogue, Rehman Sobhan said the quality of data from the government offices must be improved. It is also essential that people have easy access to information. But it is people's representatives who must make the demand for an improvement in the quality of information.
Abdus Shahid said it is difficult to draw up any plan without information and data. "It is true that we have a lack of data. This is a matter of negligence," he said, adding that easy access to information and its credibility is important to ensure transparency in the pension-for-all scheme.
Saber Hossain Chowdhury said, "The quality of information must be improved. As a representative of the people, if I do not have access to information, how can I say 'yes' in parliament?"
He said many members of parliament were afraid to speak out because of Article 70 of the constitution. He said a caucus of MPs could be formed to avail information.
Shameem Haider Patwary said, "There is information terrorism in Bangladesh. If one goes to an area with official statistics, it has no semblance with ground reality. The statistics give one figure about the number of poor in my area, but there are much more poor people there in reality. We talk much more about development than transparency in statistics."
Economist Zahid Hossain said it was very difficult for a service seeker to avail official information. The government must simplify this process. And, at the same time, the information must be credible.