IF THE GOVENRMENT DOES NOT ACT, PARLIAMENT SHOULD
This week, we take a respite from the Trafficking in Persons controversy and redirect our focus towards another international report which has raised the ire of the ruling PPP administration.
Before examining the government’s and that of its critics’ responses to the Economist Intelligence Unit(EIU)‘s country report on Guyana, a report that called into question last year’s official growth rate of the Guyanese economy, permit a few concluding comments on the diplomatic victory scored by the administration at the just concluded Heads of Government Summit held in Jamaica.
Guyana must not sit on its haunches simply because it managed to have inserted in the final statement emanating from the Jamaican summit, a reference to the United States of America’s Department of State, 2010 Report on Human Trafficking. The diplomatic efforts to reverse the negative image presented in that report must be vigorously pursued since without such a reversal, Guyana will face possible aid and trade sanctions come next year, an election year.
The controversy over the Human Trafficking 2010 Report has overshadowed another dubious report, this time emanating from the Economist Intelligence Unit on Guyana. The focus in this column is not on examining the details of that report but on the responses it has evoked.
The government seems to have had a belated response to this report and has condemned certain aspects of the report, in particular the imputations that growth numbers may have been subject to some massaging.
The onus is on those who feel that the growth numbers for last year are suspect to make their case. The burden is not on the government to prove that the numbers were accurate.
Those who are claiming that there may be problems with the numbers cannot simply point to the increase in economic growth in the second half. There is nothing unusual about this trend.
Conjecture that the growth rates for this second half may be overstated cannot be the basis of disputing the growth rates.
Assessing economic growth now follows standard economic accounting and it surely should not be beyond the critics to show exactly how the numbers do not add up. It is the critics who are making the charge and therefore the burden has to be on them to point out, through more than just conjecture, where there are problems.
For its part, however, the government cannot escape blame for some of the suspicion. The government needs to be more transparent in the provision of economic data. Too often economic data on the performance of the various sectors is not timely.
There are statutory deadlines which are supposed to be met in relation to the generation of performance reports but these reports are often criticized as being late, a situation that allows for the incubation of rumors and the raising of doubts over the performance of the economy.
It may be asking too much to ask the authorities to have the half yearly production figures two weeks after the end of June. But, a greater effort should be made to ensure that by the end of July, at latest, these reports should be available for public and parliamentary scrutiny.
The authorities can be excused for having to double check the figures before releasing them.
The critics of the government are often hovering outside the doors waiting to pounce on any mistake so as to destroy the credibility of any data that is released.
And this is why greater understanding must be shown so as to ensure that there is adequate time to produce reports. That said, this should not provide an excuse for the untimely release of economic data.
While the government may have confidence in its numbers, the authorities should not be dismissive of criticisms over what has been happening in the economy. It should try to establish the credibility of its statistical data and build a broad-based consensus around the process of generating the data and consequently the numbers themselves.
The government should consider the establishment of an Economic Statistical Council which should be broad-based and comprised of persons from outside the government who would be required to pronounce on the accuracy and consistency of the data in the various sectors so that doubts can be eradicated.
It would be more difficult for charges of fudged numbers to be laid at the feet of the administration if there is in place such a certifying body.
If the government is reluctant to establish such an oversight body to monitor the official statistics, then the Economic Services Commission of the National Assembly should consider establishing such a grouping to help it in its work.
That Commission has the power to do so and to settle any controversy over the credibility of the economic data.