The country is all set to observe the National Statistics Day today (Sunday) with the slogan "Quality Statistics a Stair towards Better Life".
However, many raised the question that how much quality statistics does the government produce?
The government collects information and makes statistics on demographics, the economy, and other facts with the centralised agency The Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics, widely known as BBS, under the Statistics and Informatics Division (SID) of the planning Ministry.
The BBS often comes under criticism for mismatches of its published data on separate reports.
For example, in a recent report titled "Survey on Gross Marketed Surplus of Agricultural Commodities", the BBS said 1.9% of people in the country had no land. However, in another draft report on the agriculture census, it said the landless people were 12%. Both the surveys were conducted at nearly the same time.
Although the BBS official said the mismatch happened due to different methodologies applied in the separate surveys, they failed to explain which percentage should be taken in formulating public policies.
In another case, the BBS had failed to collect data on 71 indices out of 247 on implementing sustainable development goals (SDGs) even in seven years.
Admitting the failure, BBS Focal Point on SDG affairs Md Alamgir Hossen told The Business Standard that they could not collect data on 29% of indices. The same incidents happened in the past years also.
The weakness and mismatches in the BBS reports are frequent. Even, different government agencies struggle to formulate their crucial policies depending on the statistics.
Zahid Hossain, former lead economist of the World Bank in Dhaka office, believes the BBS could have been utilised in a better way.
"Different units of the BBS were scattered once, but it is now in the integrated office at its own building. The works of the agency increased both in quality and quantity in the last 48 years but this achievement could not be sustained," he told TBS.
Although BBS was conducting most of the internationally recognised censuses and surveys, the data remained mostly underutilised in policymaking due to delays in publishing reports, he added.
"The recent data provided by the BBS on inflation, per capita income, GDP, the size of the economy and some others were absurd as the market prices and living standard of people have not been properly reflected in the BBS reports," Zahid Hossain said.
Meanwhile, In the mid-term budgetary framework, the SID claimed that it directly spent more than 99% of its Tk383.88 crore allocation for fiscal year 2020-21 on poverty alleviation. However, the development budget was only 32%, while the rest went as salaries and allowances.
Then how it could spend 99% for poverty alleviation, economists criticised. They, however, called for a complete overhaul of the SID and the BBS.
When contacted, Planning Minister MA Mannan said there had always been questions from various quarters about the accuracy of official data. But the government, particularly the planning ministry, had to rely on BBS data, he added.
Accepting the allegation of lack of skills and capacity in some areas of the agency, he said that the government had a plan to revamp the BBS to ensure data accuracy.
"We already sought support from the development partners to this end."