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Scepticism over government statistics

9 cambodia telecommunications

Getting reliable statistical data remains a challenge for Cambodia’s government, as a lack of cooporation among the ministries and corruption still distort what is reality.

Industry insiders say this is a problem, especially as reliable data are the base of reference when the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) economic community is drafting its policies.

Analysts say data from the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) under the Ministry of Planning, such as the Economic Census of Cambodia, would be reliable, but statistics published by other ministries were not.

“They always calculate and estimate in a secret way – not in a participatory approach. Even [if the] Ministry of Planning has its own rules in planning and projection,” said Kem Ley, a social development researcher who works with economic data from the Ministry of Economy and Finance.

“Additionally, I can rate very low reliability and validity due to political reasons and corruption issues.”

According to Kem Ley, each ministry has little chance to access the data of other ministries and therefore numbers could differ from source to source. He also said there is a “disconnection within line departments and between ministries” and the “absence of a national data information centre” with a broader focus than the NIS.

Industry insiders also said there are keyword definitions and methodology problems.

“There still remains some uncertainty around the accuracy of the subscriber statistics coming out of the Cambodian telecom market,” Peter Evans wrote in his 2012 report about the Kingdom’s telecommunications sector. Therefore, he assumed a possible deviation of 15 to 20 per cent about his projection data.

For example, the secretary general of the Council for the Development of Cambodia (CDC), Sok Chenda Sophea, said during a press conference last year that the CDC’s foreign direct investment data do take approved projects into account, but do not monitor whether those investments have been made.

“It must be admitted that there is room for improvement,” said Peter Brimble, deputy country director of the Asian Development Bank (ADB). He added that “the government has recognised the importance of good data to support development reforms into the future, and is devoting significant efforts to improve the situation”.

Over the years, many development partners have worked to improve statistics and data from various line ministries.

“When any nation falls behind in this process, it means that the region will not complete the organisation of its statistics. Government statistics are the base reference when the ASEAN Economic Community, the [East Asia Summit] and the ASEAN Economic ministers draft their policies,” a report on Capacity Building for Statisticians in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar from the Economic Research Institute for ASEAN and East Asia (ERIA) said in 2009. “A lack of qualification of statisticians hinders the international comparability of industrial statistics.”

However, efforts have been made, according to the NIS’ Masterplan from November 2012. “The skills in statistics and the capacity at NIS have improved since 2007. Further improvements have yet to be made, both to carry out surveys and censuses,” the document said.

“Yet more funding from the [government] is required to make a sustainable statistical system.”

Policies on data sharing, dissemination and communication should be established, Ouk Chay, secretary of state for planning, said in a speech at the ASEAN Regional Workshop on Strategic Planning in Jakarta last November.

“Without good statistics we cannot learn from our mistakes and the policy makers cannot be held accountable for any pitfalls.”

According to ADB’s Brimble, better data will support the implementation of results-based programs and projects, and enable more effective monitoring and evaluation of these activities.

“This will enable more efficient use of government resources and overseas development assistance.”

“Cambodia has to develop [a] Freedom of Information Law and Guidelines for Stakeholder Participation.

Also, development partners must develop and support what the government can’t. Now, development partners support what the government wants and not what people need,” researcher Kem Ley added.

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