China to improve economic data accuracy with new system
BEIJING, Feb 17 — China’s statistics agency will kick off a new system tomorrow to collect original data directly from businesses, the latest bid to improve the accuracy of key indicators in the world’s second-largest economy.
The system, which has been under preparation since 2009, will allow 700,000 factories, property developers and department stores to report their business numbers on a monthly basis, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said.
The businesses account for over 90 per cent of national industrial output and sales.
The latest steps to improve the accuracy of China’s economic data come as the fast-growing economy gains more global influence.
Beijing in the past had to rely on local statistics cadres, who often cook numbers for career promotions, to compile key economic indicators such as industrial output and retail sales.
The new system will cut short the long process of data collection, which now goes from businesses to municipal and provincial statistics agencies and then finally to the national agency, Ma Jiantang, the NBS chief, said in an online chat.
That will ensure the NBS gets original data from firms and close the loopholes for local officials to alter numbers.
“Now enterprises can just press the ‘submit’ button, and their numbers will be in our database,” Ma said, adding it would prevent “interventions” from some local governments.
A transcript of Ma’s remarks were published on NBS website.
Ma and his agency have often come under fire from the public for producing questionable numbers.
For instance, when NBS announced that housing prices in the major Chinese 70 cities had grown a mere 1.5 per cent in 2009, Chinese media, analysts and even government officials publicly criticised the number as untrustworthy.
“In the past, we at NBS sometimes sensed that there might be cooked numbers in some areas, but we couldn’t pin down where as we couldn’t see the firsthand data from companies — what we saw are numbers reported by local statistics organs,” Ma added.
With the new system, NBS will be able to spot and record any changes of input numbers.
NBS is a relatively toothless government agency that has little power to punish any company or institution for misreporting numbers, but Ma said he would try to work with banks and even China’s stock market regulators to discipline any wrongdoing.
The new way of soliciting data directly from companies may be applied to other fields, such as the census, he added.
The NBS has been trying to use modern technologies to upgrade its systems. It had given mobile handset to its price information collectors around the country so that they can directly put price numbers into NBS’s database.
But there is a long way to go.
The combined gross domestic product numbers reported by China’s 31 provinces in 2011, for instance, was about 4.6 trillion yuan higher than the nationwide number — an error that is as big as the size of Indonesia’s economy. — Reuters