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The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has provisionally calculated the growth of 5.24 per cent for the gross domestic product (GDP) in the last 2019-20 fiscal year. Economists and private research organisations claim that this growth calculation does not match reality. Questions have also been raised about the competence of BBS. There have also been allegations of political interference in modifying and fabricating data and information generated by BBS. Riti Ibrahim, former secretary of the statistics and information management department of the planning ministry, spoke on the issue. Jahangir Shah transcribed her deliberation.

The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) has given a provisional account of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the previous financial year. This calculation has been made on the basis of information received till 31 March (first nine months of the financial year). Presumably, this provisional estimate was drawn up by BBS in the normal process just as in any other year.

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The last three months of the financial year (April-June) remained static due to the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Remittance may have increased. But there is cause to be concerned as many have lost their jobs, many have been sent back to the country. In this situation, the GDP growth will not be as much as shown in the BBS provisional calculation for the whole financial year. This can be termed as an inflated estimate.

BBS has its weaknesses. There are very few people who have degrees in statistics. The major setback is that there are no statisticians of that quality who will guide BBS.

I saw at the beginning of my career that it is decided beforehand of how much GDP growth will be announced to the public. Later this was somehow fixed by calculating backwards.

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However, the few years that I was in charge, I did not allow this to happen. Especially during the census, I instructed that no eraser can be used. The first data found in the field level should be the final data. I do not understand why so much influence is exerted on GDP? GDP is not everything. Development in social sectors such as women's empowerment, health must also be taken into consideration.

New officers were appointed to BBS. Most of them are non-professionals. I believe initiatives need to be taken to strengthen BBS.

BBS has its weaknesses. There are very few people who have degrees in statistics. The major setback is that there are no statisticians of that quality who will guide BBS. The consultants are all administration cadre officers. So there is considerable weakness at the advisory level. There is also a weakness in the method of collecting information in the field. Nobody seems to care about BBS data.

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The Department of Statistics and Information Management was formed to advise the BBS. It was well planned, but it was not enough. Those who have worked at BBS for a long time know a lot about statistics. They were once transferred to the Department of Statistics and Information Management. New officers were appointed to BBS. Most of them are non-professionals. I believe initiatives need to be taken to strengthen BBS.

*This analysis, originally published in Prothom Alo print edition, has been rewritten in English by Farjana Liakat