Asia-Pacific Statisticians Reaffirm the Importance of Timely Data in Response to Events

More than 30 delegations attend meeting of ESCAP’s Committee on Statistics in Bangkok

Official statistical systems in the Asia-Pacific region need to improve their preparedness to respond more quickly to sudden turns of events, such as in providing timely and accurate data on the current international financial and economic crisis.

With factors such as this one in mind, the region’s top statisticians are meeting in Bangkok today for the first session of the Committee on Statistics – part of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP). The Committee, made up of representatives of ESCAP’s members, is tasked with tracking key socio-economic and environmental trends in the ESCAP region; identifying data requirements for economic, social and environmental analysis in accordance with internationally agreed standards and good practices; and building capacity for national statistical systems in the region.

At the two-day meeting, the Committee will particularly focus on technical cooperation in statistics, gender statistics, economic statistics, population estimates and measuring the progress of societies.

“The release of gross domestic product or employment figures, for instance, can in any country shift fortunes, make or shrink capital, and influence the everyday life of people,” said Ms. Haishan Fu, the acting chief of ESCAP’s Statistics Division. “So, government statisticians certainly feel the high responsibility of their office – and having the Committee is a sign of increasing attention paid to official statistics."

The meeting was inaugurated on Wednesday morning by Thailand’s Minister of Information and Communication Technology, Sub-Lieutenant Ranangrak Suwanchawee, on behalf of the Royal Thai Government. The Committee elected Mr. Rusman Heriawan, the chief statistician of Statistics Indonesia, as its chairperson. More than 30 delegations from countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region are attending the meeting, in addition to a number of representatives from United Nations and other intergovernmental agencies and donor groups.

“With the Chinese economy already integrated into the world economy, there are increasing demands of the international community and overseas investors for the statistical information of China, which has resulted in the fact that China’s statistical demands are not only diversified and complicated but are also becoming difficult to meet,” said Mr. Ma Jiantang, the Commissioner of China’s National Bureau of Statistics and the head of the Chinese delegation to the meeting. In his remarks, he noted that senior Chinese government officials had recognized the role statistics play in economic and social development.

Mr. Pronab Sen, India’s Chief Statistician, said that re-establishing the forum was an important milestone for developing countries of the Asia-Pacific region.

“Our diversities have not had occasion to be discussed thoroughly enough to arrive at acceptable commonalities and this has retarded the effectiveness of our interventions at international forums agreeing on statistical standards,” Mr. Sen said. “It is not that we would disagree with the highest of standards, but our resources require us to focus on the feasible; individually we do not have the resources to undertake the necessary research and preparatory work – but together we do.”

Mr. Sen added that he expects the new Committee to fill a gap by becoming an active voice for the region’s statisticians.