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
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
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.