Timely, accurate fiscal data crucial for policymaking – The Daily Star

The delayed release and inaccuracy of fiscal data in Bangladesh ultimately hurts the public as it prevents the government from providing adequate support, according to the Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).
“It may be due to the lack of precise and timely fiscal data that the government cannot effectively utilise its available fiscal space,” said Towfiqul Islam Khan, senior research fellow of the CPD.
This means that the government may be forced to adopt a relatively conservative approach when extending budgetary allocations to help combat any crisis, such as the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and rising commodity prices, he added.
Khan made these comments while presenting a study on “Fiscal data in Bangladesh: Issues and Challenges” yesterday.
There are four fundamental dimensions of fiscal data: availability, accessibility, agility (promptness), and accuracy.
The research showed that when it comes to Bangladesh, the accuracy of fiscal data continues to be a major concern due to inconsistencies in the reports from national data suppliers.
In terms of availability, the major concerns begin with the absence of several key fiscal indicators followed by inadequate levels of disaggregation.
“So, the actual expenditure on social protection, subsidies, cash transfers, and projects under the Annual Development Programme should be reported on a monthly basis,” Khan said while disclosing their findings at a dialogue, styled “Challenges of Improving Fiscal Data for Policymaking in Bangladesh”.
The dialogue was organised by the CPD in partnership with The Asia Foundation, Bangladesh at the Sheraton Dhaka in the capital’s Banani.
Debapriya Bhattacharya, a distinguished fellow of the CPD, said fiscal data plays a critical role not only from the perspectives of accountability and transparency for the country’s development process but also for policymaking.
“We talked about data deficits, then anarchy and now we are talking about data blindness. Things which are happening in the recent past are totally within data blindness,” he added.
Data blindness is present in almost all facets of Bangladesh’s economy, whether it concerns the price of petroleum and electricity, the overall subsidy policy or future investments, including mega projects.
With this backdrop, Bhattacharya questioned if there is a lack of political will in the collection of fiscal data for any reason.
“Is there any apprehension to publish the data as the information might create a catastrophe on the political or administrative aspect?” he asked.
“So, it is important to look into whether there is any apprehension from either the planning ministry or the finance ministry to provide relative information on the narrative of the development being portrayed,” Bhattacharya said.
Data on state-owned enterprises is very crucial since people get various services, such as water, electricity and gas utilities, from them.
“Since these services are given by the monopoly of state-owned enterprises, we need to get their financial statements to understand the logic behind price hikes,” said Zahid Hussain, former lead economist at the World Bank’s Dhaka office.
On the one hand, Dhaka WASA says that production costs are higher than prices being paid while on the other, there has been news that WASA has been making hefty profits over the years.
“So, there is something here we do not know about. One thing is that there could be accrual profit, but there is no proper cash flow since there are outstanding bills,” Hussain said.
The problems created by outstanding bills cannot be solved by price hikes because that would mean people who pay their bills would be burdened by those who do not.
But if the balance sheets of state-owned enterprises are available on time, think tanks and research bodies like the CPD would be able to analyse them and infer the logic behind any given price hike.
“The balance sheets of state-owned enterprises are given in pieces. Besides, the actual data remains un-updated,” he added.
Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the CPD, said data quality would be maintained if the generated data is derived from the needs of primary users, such as the finance ministry and policymakers.
However, the majority of demand for changes in data quality comes from outside the government, which is a critical weakness as the driver of change should come from within.
“If the finance minister really is conscious about the importance of making key policy decisions that will be functionally used for his work and not essentially see this presentation as a political public relations exercise, then he himself will be the main customer for improving data quality,” Sobhan said.
“If you really want full transparency in data and you want quality data, then the effective demand must originate from the government itself,” he added.
Data accessibility and transparency have always been lacking from the government end.
“The data producers either do not want to share or do not have a systematic way to collect data,” said Saber Hossain Chowdhury, a member of parliament. 
রুশ সেনাবাহিনীর আক্রমণের মুখে দক্ষিণ ইউক্রেনের বন্দর নগরী ওডেসায় গতকাল রাত ১১টা থেকে আজ শুক্রবার সকাল ৬টা পর্যন্ত কারফিউ জারি করা হয়। এসময় সবাই নিজ নিজ ঘরে থাকায় পুরো শহরে নেমে আসে এক অপার্থিব নীরবতা।


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