Sunday, January 27, 2008

Caretakers see through cooked up growth

Body to study figure fudging by Aziz govt
(Courtesy The News)

ISLAMABAD: In a shocking development, the interim government headed by Muhammadmian Soomro has expressed no-confidence in the figures firmed up by the Shaukat Aziz government about various major economic indicators such as the GDP growth, major crops produce, inflation, poverty, and industrial data. Quite disturbed with the flour crisis, energy crisis, and the economic data of FBS, particularly food inflation, employment and poverty figures, which mostly do not match with ground realities, Prime Minister Muhammadmian Soomro has constituted a high-powered committee to ascertain the accuracy, reliabilityand credibility of the data gathered by the Federal Bureau of Statistics (FBS).

"The economy about which the previous government used to make tall claims was exposed in the four-day wheel jam strike after the assassination of Ms Bhutto and the government has been compelled to readjust all economic indicators," a senior government official told The News. The committee has been constituted with Deputy Chairman Planning Commission Dr Akram Shiekh as the head. The committee comprises Special Secretary to Finance Ministry Dr Ashfaq H Khan, Secretary FBS Asad Illahi, DG FBS SECP Chairman Raziur Rehman, and Secretary Ministry of Industries Shahab Khawaja. When contacted, Dr Akram Sheikh confirmed the development and said that the prime minister had constituted the committee on quality figures about the economyheaded by him in the last ECC meeting. He said that primarily the committee had been tasked to bring unorganised industrial sector in the final figures about industrial growth estimates and tothis effect, the Ministry of Industries had been directed to compile and capture the data about the unorganised industry across the country.

To a question about the figures firmed up by the previous regime about the GDP growth, inflation, poverty and crops production, Akram Sheikh said the committee would start work on the said issues later. "However, it would take up the accuracy issue of the industrial data first." In the terms of reference (ToRs) of the committee, a copy of which is available with The News, the assignment of the newly-constituted body is to appraise critically the input data of the FBS and assess the accuracy, reliability and credibility of various economic indicators. The official said in the first meeting of the committee on quality FBS figures, it was decided that industrial data would now be collected by the Ministryof Industries, not the Federal Bureau of Statistics, arguing that the data collected by the FBS did not match the ground realities. There is no denying the fact that the country experienced unprecedented food inflation that hovered around 14 per cent as per the FBS figures, but the ground realities speak of something different and according to independent economists, the food inflation stands above 20 per cent.

When contacted, Qaiser Bengali, a well-known independent economist, said the move to constitute a committee on quality figures about the economy was itself not less than a no-confidence in the credibility of the previous regime. He reminded that he was highlighting how the government was manoeuvering and fudging the economic data since 2001. Qaiser Bengali said, although, the constitution of the committee was a good step in the right direction, but the main thing was to see the composition of the committee and how much credibility it commanded to fulfill its responsibility.

Bangali doubted that the committee comprising all government functionaries would come up to the expectation of the people by revealing the shocking disclosuresin figure fudging that the previous government had committed just to show its economic output. Donor agencies also, time and again in their various reviews of Pakistan's economy, have doubted figures of some economic indicators, but the previous government headed by Shaukat Aziz took on many donors for issuing such statements.

The wheat produce claims of 23.5 million tonnes are also questionable keeping in view the wheat and flour crisis that has hit the country in a big way. Many are of the view that most of the figures are manipulated to show maximum economic output. Efforts were made to seek the comment of secretary FBS Asad Illahi on the development, but he was stated to be in the Combined Military Hospital to look after his ailing son.

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