The economic data or statistics of a country usually replicates the true picture of that country whilst allowing international institutions to know the country’s position in comparison with its regional countries.
But the delay in issuing these data and making contradictory statements by state authorities created serious credibility issues on the country’s economic data and statistics among international lending agencies and donor countries, several eminent economists said.
National economic data of Sri Lanka has been released in August for the first quarter of 2020 highlighting that the economy had contracted by 1.6%.
The data was released following a highly extraordinary delay and many assumed that the reasons behind this holdup has been the COVID-19 crisis.
SJB parliamentarian Dr. Harsha de Silva noted that the data was being held back intentionally till the end of the election, which was conducted on 5 August, so as to prevent any political disadvantage.
However, the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS) and the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) both denied this allegation, and attributed the delay purely to the pandemic.
This is not the first time Sri Lanka’s economic data, or the process by which it is calculated, has come under scrutiny. Furthermore, DCS has been accused of massaging economic data in the past as well.
Several economists and the opposition members expressed concern as to whether the Department of Census and Statistics is resorting to repeat its tainted attempt in 2013 to massage GDP numbers to mislead the public during Rajapaksa regime.
It has been alleged that the top-most official in the country’s official Statistics Bureau during that time, has instructed the officer handling the GDP numbers to increase the growth rate in Quarter I of 2013 from 5.5% to 6% when there were no ground conditions warranting the issue of such instructions.
Central Bank Governor Professor W. D. Lakshman participating in a radio programme titled ’Subarathi’ confirmed that the country’s economic growth has declined to -1.6 per cent of GDP even at a time where the new government has issued its economic policy statement.
Earlier, the Central Bank has made a projection of 11.5 per cent growth despite the IMF and ADB projections of negative growth. According to ADB projections, Sri Lanka's GDP growth is expected at -6.1% in 2020 and 4.1% in 2021.
But Professor W. D. Lakshman has expressed his doubts on statistics and actual economic growth claiming that it all depends on data collection and evaluation.
For the economy to reach at least 0% growth, the country needs a significant growth rebound in the fourth quarter.
It is too early for us to come up with a number but under this scenario, it is most likely that we will achieve a higher growth in the fourth quarter and little lower position growth in Q3, he added.