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Correct database need of the hour

Rahman Jahangir | Published: February 03, 2017 20:28:11 | Updated: October 22, 2017 07:26:59


Computing exaggerated statistics to give rosy pictures of economic trends or performance of an economy are self-defeating. For example, people question and throw away such data when they visit kitchen markets and find that vegetables, fishes and meat are simply beyond their reach in terms of prices. And they see the sky-rocketing prices in their own eyes at a time when officials go on claiming that inflation is falling continuously. Common man can't buy abundantly available vegetables which are priced at minimum Tk 30 a kg or above while a government official has no difficulty to cope with the situation due to salary raise.          
Amid such disbelief official statistics cause in Bangladesh, the government is reportedly set to prepare a National Household Database (NHD) to identify economic status of the people aiming to eliminate poverty from the country. But then such a database needs to be prepared with correct statistics. Any distortion will severely impede successful execution of all programmes initiated in the field of poverty alleviation. Unfortunately, a major chunk of huge funds for social protection simply goes down the drain due to lack of a correct database of the recipients.  
But then, the NHD has to be prepared on the basis of real economic status of every household to ensure bringing the target group under the social safety-net programme. It should also be an online database, which will remove all sorts of irregularities of the social safety-net programme. Although the Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS) revealed last year the percentage of extreme poor in the country is 12.9, the overall rate of poor people is 18.5 per cent. But as the country has no household database, economic condition at family level cannot be assessed. This is hampering the poverty reduction efforts of the government. The NHD should be prepared to remove overlapping practices of social safety-net programmes. After preparation of NHD, real beneficiaries could be included in the social safety-net programme. It will also significantly help achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) through successful implementation of social safety-net programme.
In fact, databases play a crucial role in the development of information infrastructure. These are developed with aims for faster services in all service sectors like recreation and tourism, healthcare, banking, insurance, real estate etc. Databases contain data on basic information collected, arranged, classified and stored targeting these sectors. Like others, the government in Bangladesh has also been developing different kinds of databases, e.g. database on voter registration, etc. 
It is yet to be disclosed whether the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association's directive to apparel factories to prepare database on garment workers has been complied with. Most of the Rana Plaza collapse victims could not get due compensation as there was no database on workers of factories housed in that building.  
It is to be noted that weak and inconsistent statistical databases remain an impediment to making plans on economic and development issues. "The statistical base of our country is weak. We still don't have accurate data on population and poverty. It is difficult to make appropriate plans unless we get rid of the problem," Quazi Kholiquzzaman Ahmad, a leading economist, regretted at a seminar. Citing data on unemployment of the BBS, Ahmad said it has no operational meaning as it fails to give proper guidance on employment scenario in the country.
There is lack of data on domestic investment. Data are collected according to investment registration, not the actual data on domestic investment. Foreign investment statistics, prepared by government agencies, are inconsistent. The same is true for data available on employment. There is still no proper data on how many people enter the job market a year and the percentage of population that is unemployed in real terms. The BBS needs to be autonomous to prepare valid data without government interference.
Prof Nurul Islam, an internationally acclaimed economist from Bangladesh, suggested placing knowledgeable persons in institutions like Planning Commission and BBS working on economic development planning. His suggestion came as a galaxy of economists at a recent discussion said cooking statistical books in this matter was producing just puzzles. He also stressed the need for equipping the country's statistical organisation Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics with proper manpower so that it could provide necessary statistics to ease the government's decision-making process. Dwelling on various development and policy issues, he opined that an independent statistical organisation is a key element for economic development.
Lack of reliable data costs countries like Bangladesh heavily. True life-and-death decisions hinge on information that's old, unreliable or both. It has been found that without strong national capacity for data collection, health officials are left in the dark when monitoring outbreaks of diseases. Many countries are unable to produce an accurate picture of their progress towards universal health coverage or even assess their starting point. Transforming global health by 2030, as the Sustainable Development Goals intend to do, will require massive scale-up in the country's capacity to collect timely, reliable data in a way that's sustainable and aligned with global health priorities.
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