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National Bank goes public

National Bank goes public

Considering that official statistics in Cambodia when they existed at all - were

only available on a "need-to-know" basis, the National Bank of Cambodia

has broken new ground with its decision to publish a quarterly Monetary and Economic

Statistics Review.

This is most welcome because a major problem for Cambodia analysts outside the government

has always been the lack of regular up-to-date statistics. It is also timely because,

since UNTAC's departure, nothing appeared to replace the monthly report put out by

the office of the Economic Advisor.

Two other reasons for the Bank to pat itself on the back: Unlike the UNTAC report,

which had a restricted circulation, the Bank's quarterly will be on sale to the public.

Equally important, it appears in both English and Khmer.

But what have they done? The contents of the first issue include a commentary on

the year 1993 - mainly a description of the third quarter plus three tables covering

the CPI index, monetary data detailing currency in circulation, net foreign assets,

etc, and bidding at the US dollar auctions.

Two charts present the evolution of prices between Oct. 1992 and Sep. 1993, and trends

in the exchange rate and the price of gold for the some period.

As a bonus, the quarterly also prints the rules governing the new auctions for the

sale of US dollars that the National Bank intends to hold on a periodic basis.

That said, there are a number of improvements that need to be made. As a general

principle, all statistical tabulations and graphs should be user-friendly. They should

be crystal clear, meaningful and easy for an interested lay person to interpret.

This is not the case. For example, there is no indication of what the vertical column

of the chart on the evolution of the price index is based upon. Simply putting a

series of numbers from 0 to 8 is not good enough for those who are not statistically

minded.

The indices that have been calculated for the dollar based on the Buy Rate have limited

value, while showing the monthly change in the riel price of gold on an annualized

basis is economically meaningless.

Similar comments apply to Chart 2 which shows the trend in the US dollar and the

Gold price. One should not have to work out what the vertical column stands for.

The place-points on the graph of gold, in particular, do not correspond to the figures

in the table.

Finally, statistical tabulations that just show a trend for a few months have - particularly

when the series is being published for the first time - limited value for non-experts.

Readers need a basis for comparison. To be of use to the public, statistics need

to be comparative. We all like top know whether we are better or worse off or how

our performance compares with the past.

This means at least knowing that the average was for the last year, or the year pre-UNTAC,

or the period that really saw a jump towards economic liberalism in Cambodia. What

is the real value of the riel today, in riels and in dollars?

These are the sort of factual questions the public, for whom this publication is

intended, are interested in.

The first issue - put out by the Economic and Research Department of the National

Bank - whets but nowhere satisfies the statistical appetite.

For a thin publication costing almost $9 (20,000 riels), these are matters that need

to be corrected before the next issue. The Bank should also adopt a policy of giving

away old unsold copies to the public.

A frequent complaint in the two years I taught at the Institute of Economics, was

the near impossibility of getting hold of any meaningful figures.

The Bank has made an encouraging start. There is still an enormous degree of ignorance

at the University level about the economic situation of the country. There is a void

that needs to be filled - a gap the Bank should attempt to meet.

If its' early teething problems (punctuation, indicating which figures have been

revised, and appearing nearly two months after the end of the period in question),

can be overcome, then the new quarterly should have a bright future. With this qualification,

its' potential audience can only wish it well.

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