I. ORGANIZATION OF THE MEETING
1. The ninth session of the Working Group of Statistical Experts, organized by the secretariat of the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), was held at Bangkok from 30 January to 2 February 1996.
2. The meeting was attended by representatives of the following 23 members and associate members of ESCAP: Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei Darussalam, China, Fiji, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Japan, Kiribati, Lao People's Democratic Republic, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Nepal, New Zealand, Philippines, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Singapore, Thailand and Viet Nam.
3. The meeting was also attended by representatives of the following United Nations bodies and specialized agencies: United Nations Children's Fund, United Nations Development Fund for Women, United Nations Environment Programme, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, United Nations Population Fund, International Labour Organization, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, World Health Organization and International Monetary Fund (IMF). Representatives of the following intergovernmental organizations also attended: Commonwealth of Independent States, Mekong River Commission, Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and South Pacific Commission. The Asian Institute of Technology was represented. The Statistical Institute for Asia and the Pacific (SIAP) was also represented.
B. Opening of the meeting
4. The meeting was opened by the Executive Secretary of ESCAP, who said that he was pleased to see such a large number of countries and agencies participating in the Working Group; their attendance confirmed the importance of the work of the Committee on Statistics and its role as the focus of regional statistical development. He apologized for the delay in convening the Working Group, which had been caused by the serious and continuing financial crisis facing the United Nations. He noted with pleasure that, with the active involvement of the Bureau of the Committee on Statistics, which had met the previous day, a start had been made on providing the statistical work of ESCAP with continuity of leadership and guidance.
5. The Executive Secretary noted that, in line with the recommendation of the Committee on Statistics, the Working Group would consider a number of technical topics. Those included the implementation of the 1993 System of National Accounts (SNA), on which the secretariat had surveyed countries' status, plans and technical assistance requirements, and the use of information technology in statistics, for which countries had provided the documentation. The Working Group's recommendations were also being sought on strengthening statistical coordination arrangements within countries.
6. The Executive Secretary advised the Working Group that the secretariat's likely resource situation should be taken into account in the consideration of programme matters such as the programme of work for 1996-1997 and the medium-term plan for 1998-2001. He stressed, however, that the present climate of uncertainty, while necessitating efficient and effective use of the secretariat's limited resources, should not allow the budget to determine the programme. In that regard, he was encouraged by the increase in extrabudgetary resources, the generous cooperation of multilateral agencies and the heightened involvement of member States in the activities of the statistics subprogramme.
7. It was noted that the Bureau of the ninth session of the Committee on Statistics would officiate at the meeting of the Working Group. Accordingly, Mr Frederick W.H. Ho (Hong Kong) served as Chairperson, Mr Timoci Bainimarama (Fiji) and Mr Ataul Haq (Bangladesh) as Vice-Chairpersons, and Mr Romulo Virola (Philippines) as Rapporteur.
8. After noting that the deliberations of the Committee on Statistics should address the statistical implications of recent global summit meetings, as well as the priorities of the United Nations Statistical Commission, the Working Group adopted the following agenda:
- Opening of the session.
- Adoption of the agenda.
- Report of the Bureau.
- Review of implementation arrangements for the 1993 System of National Accounts (SNA).
- Statistics on trade in services.
- Use of information technology in statistics:
- Geographic information systems;
- Remote sensing in statistics;
- Implications of the Internet.
- Programmes of national statistical offices towards the effective dissemination of statistical information.
- Statistical coordination within countries.
- Programme matters:
- Review of the work programme in statistics, 1996-1997;
- Review of the outline of the medium-term plan in statistics, 1998-2001.
- Provisional agenda for the tenth session of the Committee on Statistics.
- Other matters.
- Adoption of the report.
9. The documents submitted to the Working Group are listed in the annex to the report.
II. REPORT OF THE BUREAU
10. The Working Group considered the topic on the basis of an oral report by the Chairman. It heard that the Bureau had met on 29 January 1996 and had discussed the following topics:
- Terms of reference and functioning of the Bureau, including financial arrangements;
- Terms of reference of the Committee on Statistics, with special reference to its designation as the focus of regional statistical development;
- Mechanisms for mutual cooperation in statistical development among member countries;
- Programme matters:
- Review of the implementation of the 1994-1995 work programme;
- Assessment of the planned experimental presentation of programmes in statistics in the region;
- Tentative provisional agenda for the tenth session of the Committee on Statistics.
11. The Working Group was informed that, since the last session of the Committee on Statistics, the secretariat had been in touch with the members of the Bureau through correspondence and had circulated, among other documents, two six-monthly progress reports on the status of implementation of the recommendations of the Committee. It was decided that in the future such reports should, after review by the Bureau, be circulated to national statistical offices. The Working Group noted that the Bureau, in discharging its functions, should alert the secretariat to the significant issues on which the inputs and comments of other countries would be necessary so that special needs and interests could be taken into account in formulating statistical programmes. The Working Group sessions themselves, in fact, provided an excellent opportunity to strengthen that process.
12. In discussing the financial arrangements for the Bureau members and their participation in the Working Group, it was agreed that the current arrangements would continue. However, in a situation of financial constraint, priority would be given to funding the participation of Bureau members from the Central Asian republics, least developed and landlocked countries and island developing countries.
13. The Bureau had felt that the revised terms of reference of the Committee on Statistics, as they appeared in annex II of the report of the ninth session of the Committee, comprised a useful statement of direction and did not need any change. The Working Group agreed with the Bureau recommendation that, in any future revision of the conference structure of ESCAP, the Committee on Statistics should be retained. The Committee had an excellent track record in which attendance from the capitals had always been very high. Given the role that it played as the focus of regional statistical development, any downgrading of the Committee on Statistics or merger with other bodies would be detrimental to the process of capability-building and statistical coordination in the region. If necessary, national statistical offices should make representations with the appropriate agencies in their respective Governments to maintain the current position of the Committee in the ESCAP structure. To demonstrate the validity and vitality of the Committee's terms of reference, the Bureau had suggested that the secretariat should prepare a document providing concrete examples of work accomplished in pursuance of each clause.
14. The Working Group noted that the Bureau, in discussing mechanisms for mutual cooperation in statistical development among member countries, had felt that the spirit of technical cooperation among developing countries (TCDC) was admirable, but that its implementation often faced problems because of lack of funding for local costs of study tours or visiting experts. Moreover, the organization of TCDC activities was resource-intensive for the secretariat. It was recommended that countries should identify and convey to the secretariat a list of areas in which other countries could benefit from their knowledge and experience. In that regard, the Working Group was informed of the activity initiated by the United Nations Statistics Division of compiling information on technical cooperation received and rendered by countries.
15. The Working Group was advised of the high rate of implementation achieved by the secretariat in its 1994-1995 statistics subprogramme. It also acknowledged the intensive efforts of the secretariat in collecting and compiling information on the regional statistical activities of other international organizations and agencies, in the context of the experimental presentation of statistical work programmes in the region. That information would prove useful for coordination of activities. Despite known difficulties arising from the lack of comparability in the information collected, the Working Group encouraged the secretariat to continue with the exercise. It was noted that the purpose of the exercise was to enhance coordination among international agencies active in the field of statistics in the region, and not to review the performance of the agencies.
16. The Working Group noted that the Bureau had also discussed the tentative provisional agenda for the tenth session of the Committee on Statistics, and decided to take up the resulting suggestions under the appropriate item of its own agenda.
III. REVIEW OF IMPLEMENTATION ARRANGEMENTS FOR THE 1993 SYSTEM OF NATIONAL ACCOUNTS
17. The Working Group considered the paper "Implementation of the 1993 System of National Accounts in the developing economies of the ESCAP region" (STAT/WGSE.9/1). It appreciated the efforts and cooperation of the countries which responded to the enquiries made by the secretariat and provided useful inputs for the paper. On that basis, the Working Group noted that developing countries in the region would need substantive support to assist in the implementation process; in most of the countries, implementation would entail a long gestation period, with new elements in their national accounts systems being gradually introduced over time.
18. The Working Group underlined the importance of implementing the 1993 SNA and endorsed the action taken by the secretariat as the focal point for assistance with implementation in the region. In particular, it supported the categorization of the countries into various groups as outlined in the paper. It noted that, for operational convenience in terms of language and the activities of OECD in those countries, the Central Asian republics and Mongolia had been kept in one group, separate from other countries in transition. The Working Group endorsed the proposal of the secretariat to organize subregional workshops focusing on the procedures for switching over to the updated concepts and classifications of the 1993 SNA. The topics covered would be based on the stage of national accounts development amongst the member countries in the group. The Working Group appealed for financial support from multilateral donors such as the Asian Development Bank and the United Nations Development Programme for the activities proposed by the secretariat. It emphasized that, for successful implementation of the System, the development of basic statistics and the provision of technical assistance were essential. Towards that end, it welcomed the training courses provided in national accounts by SIAP and IMF, but noted nevertheless that training opportunities in those institutions were limited.
19. The Working Group welcomed the offer of the Government of Japan to provide SIAP with training materials and teaching faculty for training on the 1993 SNA. It also welcomed its offer to make available the services of national accounts experts to assist developing countries, especially those in transition, in implementing the 1993 SNA, based on requests which would be considered on a case-by-case basis.
20. The Working Group noted the growing demand for regional (subnational) accounts, particularly for countries with a federal structure. It noted that a handbook on regional accounts had been scheduled for publication by the Statistical Office of the European Communities (Eurostat), which might prove useful to the countries in the region, especially if it addressed problems relating to the availability of basic data. The Working Group appreciated the production by members of the Intersecretariat Working Group on National Accounts of manuals, handbooks and supporting material for SNA implementation. It encouraged national statistical organizations to obtain the required publications from the concerned agencies.
21. The Working Group welcomed the 1993 SNA's feature of satellite accounting, whereby topics of special interest could be pursued without unduly burdening the central framework of the System. It noted that some countries in the region had already started to experiment with computations on environmental accounting. In that connection, it was noted that valuation of the services of unpaid family members was important not only in terms of gender statistics but also because of changes in employment status between paid and unpaid work. The Working Group nevertheless emphasized that, since it was important to keep the existing production boundary of gross domestic product unchanged, it would be advisable to develop other relevant measures of unpaid services within households such as those derived from time-use surveys.
22. The Working Group noted that the informal sector was important in many countries of the region and that the estimation of its output and labour force posed serious problems. It also noted that many studies on the sector had been carried out, and a definition had been adopted by the International Conference of Labour Statisticians in 1993. The Working Group heard with interest that the Government of India intended to commission a detailed study on the informal sector so as to ensure its full reflection in the national accounts statistics; the secretariat was invited to participate in the study. The results would be made available to interested parties in due course.
23. The Working Group noted that some of the terminologies used in the 1993 SNA were different from those of earlier versions. As terminologies of basic statistics collected in surveys at present followed closely those of previous versions of the SNA, care was needed to ensure concordance of statistical terms appearing in different fields of official statistics. In that regard, it also noted that the 1993 SNA had been translated into a number of languages.
24. The Working Group noted that the "residual approach" to the estimation of the household sector, including unincorporated enterprises, had been commonly utilized in national accounts compilation for various reasons. The deficiencies in the method were recognized by the participants. The Working Group noted that, in certain circumstances, the quality of the estimates for the components used in the derivation had deteriorated over time. A review of the quality of the basic data could thus lead to improvement in the estimates, even when the residual approach had to be adopted. It also heard the experience of one country where the quality of industrial statistics had declined despite the fact that the legislative authority for statistical collection had, in fact, originated specifically for the collection of such data, and the situation had been further aggravated by the liberalization of trade. The Working Group also noted that the design of questionnaires tailored to the accounting practices of business enterprises could facilitate better response rates and improve the quality of data. In that connection, a handbook on the links between business and national accounts standards would prove extremely useful.
25. The Working Group was informed that, because of the financial problems facing the United Nations, the services of the regional adviser on national accounts could be made available only on a restricted basis until the current constraints were removed. The Working Group considered that, given the importance of the development of national accounts statistics and the emphasis given to implementation of the 1993 SNA, ESCAP should accord priority to the delivery of advisory and training services and other technical assistance in that field.
IV. STATISTICS ON TRADE IN SERVICES
26. The Working Group considered the topic on the basis of the report of the Seminar on Statistics on Trade in Services, held in Bangkok from 6 to 10 November 1995 (STAT/WGSE.9/2). It expressed appreciation to the Republic of Korea for providing financial support for the seminar through the Korea-ESCAP Cooperation Fund. It expressed similar sentiments to IMF, OECD, the World Trade Organization and the Australian Bureau of Statistics for providing resource persons for the meeting, which had been evaluated very highly by its participants.
27. The Seminar had noted that countries in the ESCAP region were compiling trade in services statistics in varying detail. Most of the countries were still compiling data based on the fourth edition of the IMF Balance of Payments Manual (BPM4), while some were moving towards adopting BPM5. Most countries collected data through foreign exchange records supplemented by surveys, while a few others used surveys exclusively. However, with many of the first group of countries in the region moving towards liberalized foreign exchange regimes, it would be necessary to depend upon other sources of data such as surveys. The Seminar had noted that the General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) definitions of trade in services encompassed four modes of supply: cross-border supply, consumption abroad, commercial presence and presence of natural persons. There was a need to create a new statistical domain on foreign affiliates trade to provide information for the commercial presence mode of supply. The experience among countries in that area was still limited and a task force of Eurostat was considering guidelines in that regard.
28. The Working Group noted that trade in services was assuming greater importance in the ESCAP region and welcomed the organization of the Seminar. It heard with interest about activities in the collection and compilation of trade in services data in some countries in the region. It noted that exchange of "mirror data" between countries would help to improve the quality of the statistics. Considering that a number of fast-developing economies were situated in the region, which had important implications for the collection of statistics on trade in services, the Working Group encouraged the sharing of country experience on the subject. It also noted that, with rapid advances in information technology and the emergence of the satellite channel of communication, accounting adequately for increases in the volume and range of services traded presented a challenge to statisticians. In that connection, the Working Group welcomed the plan by the inter-agency Task Force on Services Statistics to produce a manual or handbook in due course, for which relevant inputs would be needed from both developed and developing countries. 29. The Working Group noted that the informal Voorburg Group established in 1986 on the initiative of Statistics Canada and the United Nations Statistical Office had undertaken important work on services statistics, although not all national statistical organizations had been receiving the Group's output. It was decided that the secretariat should disseminate, through the Statistical Newsletter, the contents lists of the reports and proceedings of the meetings of the Voorburg Group and of similar informal groups where those were likely to be relevant to national statistical agencies of the region. It was suggested that it would be helpful if the secretariat could produce a document to prepare member countries to cope with the rapid expansion of the service sector by highlighting the problems to be anticipated, safeguards to be introduced and the advance preparations to be made.
V. USE OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY IN STATISTICS
30. The Working Group discussed the use of information technology (IT) in statistics based on 25 country papers and statements, which had focused on geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing and the Internet. The list of country papers is provided in the annex to the present report.
31. The Working Group noted that the region's statistical offices were clearly at different stages of IT development. Some advanced national statistical offices (NSOs) had a personal computer on almost every employee's desk, whereas in others computers were shared by several workers. The use of IT was essential in statistical offices as, despite the initial outlay, it reduced the overall costs of statistical operations, improved the timeliness and quality of statistics and created a better working environment by reducing routine work. The Working Group recognized the value of IT in broadening the potential user base of statistics, as it allowed people to search for, obtain and use statistics electronically.
32. Regarding statistical database development in general, the Working Group observed that the more advanced countries were already redesigning their old applications and converting from mainframe systems to client-server environments. In that conversion, hardware was a relatively small problem compared to the challenges of designing an integrated system that catered to all needs in data collection, processing, analysis and dissemination, and that was capable of reaching customers conveniently at their sites.
33. Countries that had used GIS in statistics reported a high demand for location-specific products and services. The Working Group noted that as a consequence, some advanced statistical offices were already in the process of redesigning their GIS that had been developed less than a decade ago. In contrast, some other NSOs had yet to make a start in using GIS in statistics; ESCAP could have a role to play in helping to build national capabilities in that regard. The Working Group noted with appreciation the offer of the Government of Japan to share its knowledge and information on GIS.
34. The Working Group heard that GIS were used for presentation of land and natural resources data and for displaying statistical data that were available for a mapped area, or data values that pertained to known coordinates. The public sector employed GIS for land-use monitoring and mapping, management of public utilities, transportation planning and tax zoning, among other uses. The private sector was highly interested in the possibilities of exploiting GIS in the planning of marketing campaigns and in locating their offices and sales units. The Working Group noted that several countries had made considerable efforts to digitize maps of their enumeration districts so as to use GIS in their future censuses.
35. The Working Group noted the experience of several NSOs on the benefits derived from GIS technology when planning censuses and surveys, with a view to presenting their results in a more user-friendly format. One problem cited, however, was that agricultural maps and GIS data tended to follow agricultural and climatic zones and could often not be used together with data that were based on administrative areas. Nevertheless, the Working Group felt that it was possible to solve the problem with adequate coordination between the responsible government agencies. In one country, at least, an established GIS had proved very useful in statistical coordination among government agencies.
36. For some purposes, users wanted GIS-based data for relatively small and precise geographic areas. When data were thus disaggregated or based on individual persons, households or businesses, the Working Group, while stressing the importance of quality and consistency of the data, emphasized that aggregates needed to be large enough to maintain confidentiality and to protect the privacy of the reporting units.
37. The Working Group heard that, while remote sensing imagery was deemed inapplicable to some countries in the region, it had been used for more than two decades by some statistical offices and other government agencies to estimate land use, particularly for crop production, and forest cover and soil types. It was sometimes the only method of obtaining accurate estimates of natural resources and land area estimates in unpopulated areas. In fact, remote sensing technology had significantly contributed to global and national early warning systems in agriculture. The Working Group noted that remote sensing imagery had proved very useful in determining stratification and sampling areas for statistical surveys and in the preparation of GIS maps.
38. During the past few years, local area networks (LANs) had been introduced in many statistical offices. In the more advanced countries, Governments had developed wide area networks (WANs) connecting various government departments, including statistical agencies. The Internet, which had experienced a phenomenal growth during the past couple of years, had opened up new opportunities in all areas of statistics from data collection to data dissemination and marketing. The Working Group, however, felt that the main obstacle in the utilization of the Internet was still the lack of understanding of the scope and the potential of the global network, particularly at the decision-making level.
39. The Working Group agreed that Internet e-mail offered invaluable, informal and borderless channels of communication between persons and organizations. E-mail was used in several statistical offices; although only four NSOs had so far gone on-line to use the full Internet connection and establish World Wide Web (www) pages on the Internet, several others were about to create their home pages soon. The Working Group observed that statistical agencies used the Internet as an added distribution medium for products and information that were previously disseminated through conventional means only. Besides corporate data and information about statistical products and services, the NSO Internet sites offered key country indicators, either in html-format or down-loadable spreadsheets, and links to useful statistics-related resources including other NSO home pages. The Working Group noted that no statistical Internet site had yet made data available for download in bulk. That was understandable as pricing and distribution issues had yet to be resolved; data provision though the public Internet could reduce the sales revenue of statistical publications, CD-ROMs and diskettes. Some countries were, however, providing on-line statistics in bulk to schools, universities and research institutions at significantly reduced rates.
40. The Working Group urged the secretariat to establish a www server and create a statistical home page, which would include links to statistical sites within and outside the region and which could be used to disseminate papers related to statistical development and capability-building. Some participants commented that setting up www pages for their offices had initially required additional resources, but the burden decreased later on as the updates became routine work. The Working Group recommended that statistical offices, once on the Internet, should update their Web pages frequently.
41. The Working Group was reminded that, besides e-mail and hypertext applications, the Internet also offered access to USENET news groups, which already covered certain areas of statistics. On-line messages could be exchanged through the Internet Relay Chat (IRC). Internet also facilitated remote direct access to distant databases at the command level (TELNET) and file transfer from any part of the network (FTP). A particularly useful feature of the Internet was its information search facilities and the capacity to provide machine-readable information faster than any other medium. Caution was, however, expressed with regard to data security and integrity in connection with the Internet; those issues were being explored by several countries.
42. The Working Group recognized that, although not much used yet for the purpose, the Internet had some potential in speeding up data collection and thus improving the overall timeliness and quality of statistics. Regarding the use of the Internet for dissemination of statistics, the Working Group emphasized the need to distribute statistical data together with their metadata; otherwise, misinterpretations of statistics were very likely to occur.
43. The Working Group agreed that the rapidly evolving IT had increased the demand for training, but most NSOs had difficulties in coping with the change. The demand for IT training was still bound to grow tremendously, if the forecasted increase in the number of information workers became reality. Some statistical agencies had the definite intention to leapfrog in applying IT in their offices; that could only be achieved by significantly increasing resources on IT purchases and human resources development. In that regard, the Working Group proposed that the secretariat should serve as a clearing house for sharing country experiences in the use of IT in statistics and should take action to enhance the capacity of NSOs to utilize IT; SIAP was also urged to pay added attention to IT training for statisticians.
44. In discussing alternative ways to address human resources development issues for information professionals, the Working Group recognized that, on the one hand, IT professionals working outside NSOs seldom had a thorough knowledge of statistics, which was a prerequisite in designing functional statistical information systems. On the other hand, there was a lack of IT skills among statisticians. It was therefore apparent that hybrid strategies, which would include enhancing the IT skills of statisticians and the use of general IT experts, would be needed. The Working Group encouraged statistical offices to involve statistical units of other government agencies in sectoral IT development work. While the Working Group's mandate was, in principle, limited to statistics, the view was expressed that IT-related human resources development in the public sector should be discussed at the forthcoming ESCAP Commission session.
VI. PROGRAMMES OF NATIONAL STATISTICAL OFFICES TOWARDS THE EFFECTIVE DISSEMINATION OF STATISTICAL INFORMATION
45. The Working Group considered the agenda item on the basis of secretariat document STAT/WGSE.9/4 entitled "Dissemination of statistical information in national statistical offices of the region" as well as a verbal presentation made by the representative of IMF. The Working Group noted that, although the national statistical offices of the region were increasingly disseminating their statistics through electronic media such as magnetic tapes, diskettes, CD-ROM and in some cases on-line access, printed publications remained the single most important mode of data dissemination in most countries and were likely to remain so in the near future, since there were not sufficient computers, modems and network access by key users. It noted that most of those publications were priced nominally in order to ensure wider dissemination, but some copies were also distributed free of charge, mainly to government agencies. The pricing of statistical publications was sometimes insufficient to recover even the costs of printing. The Working Group noted, moreover, that the revenue obtained by selling statistical publications was usually returned to the Government's central treasury and was not available to the statistical offices.
46. The Working Group noted with interest the suggestion to increase the sales revenue of statistical offices by improving the quality of their statistical products and to utilize the additional revenue in developing their statistical system, including the capabilities of the staff members. The Working Group nevertheless felt that, although the intention of the proposal was laudable, there was a need to adopt a cautious approach as the primary goal was to raise the effectiveness of statistical dissemination and to enhance the delivery of statistical services by national statistical offices and not to maximize revenue.
47. The Working Group heard that the recent technological developments in microcomputing, networking and telecommunications had offered great opportunities for the statistical offices to improve the dissemination of their statistics. The enormous potential of the Internet had added a new dimension to statistical data dissemination. Some countries had already initiated the use of the Internet for statistical dissemination on a limited scale, whereas others were still exploring the possibility of using it in the future. It was pointed out that the introduction of IT in statistical dissemination had greatly heightened the expectations of users, including business people, government agencies and household members. Some users were even seeking access to databases for manipulation. The Working Group therefore felt that every country should adopt a suitable strategy of data dissemination according to their infrastructural development and the requirements of the users.
48. The Working Group recognized that the great potential of CD-ROM as a medium for data dissemination, and its spreading use in developed countries, made it an attractive option for statistical offices of developing countries. It was, however, noted that most of those countries did not have CD-ROM copying facilities available and would need to outsource any volume production. In that connection, the Working Group emphasized the urgent need for appropriate technological initiatives to promote a faster spread of those facilities.
49. It was pointed out that there were instances where commercial companies purchased data series from statistical offices and repackaged and sold them according to the needs of the users. With the better marketing capabilities of those private companies, that could lead to loss of revenue for statistical offices in the sale of their publications. It was therefore deemed important to devise a rational pricing mechanism, especially for statistical products that were accessible electronically.
50. The Working Group noted that one of the most effective ways of disseminating data to the grass-roots level was via communication media such as newspapers, radio and television. In order to benefit from those modes of dissemination effectively, statisticians needed training not only in the area of information technology but also in the skills of report writing, editing, verbal communication and marketing, in order to make their presentations more appealing and attractive to the users. The Working Group also noted that statisticians should make greater efforts to acquaint media professionals with the methodologies used in the collection and compilation of statistics in order to improve the quality of use and reporting of statistics.
51. The Working Group heard that IMF had taken the initiative to develop standards to guide member countries in the provision of economic and financial statistics to the public. The standards encompassed four broad dimensions: coverage and periodicity; timely, equal and ready access to the data by the public; integrity of official statistics; and quality. The Working Group noted that the Executive Board of IMF had expressed support for a two-tier approach comprising both general and more demanding standards; the latter had the same four dimensions but with more stringent norms for coverage, periodicity and timeliness.
52. The Working Group noted that, for the general standard, 17 data categories had been initially identified by IMF as the minimum for publication, grouped into real sector statistics, fiscal statistics, monetary statistics and external sector statistics. The Working Group also noted that the more demanding norms would be used to support analyses and investment decisions in the international financial markets.
53. While noting that all IMF members would be encouraged to work towards the general standard, the Working Group heard that IMF had paid particular attention to the implementation of the more demanding standard and the establishment and maintenance of an electronic bulletin board (EBB). The Working Group was advised by the IMF representative that producers of data had generally confirmed their willingness to provide information to IMF for EBB, while users had agreed that maintenance of EBB on an Internet World Wide Web site would provide them with the ready access that they would need to make use of the information.
VII. STATISTICAL COORDINATION WITHIN COUNTRIES
54. The Working Group considered the item on the basis of secretariat document STAT/WGSE.9/5. It stressed that, without effective coordination, it would be difficult for national statistical agencies to achieve a number of their important objectives, many of which were listed in the secretariat document. Since coordination of statistical activities was particularly important for avoiding duplication and dissemination of conflicting figures, and for reducing the reporting burden, explicit mention of those objectives should also be made in the list. Some countries described steps that had been introduced to reduce the reporting burden through comprehensive coordination, such as simplification of the process of clearance for statistical activities of other agencies and the introduction of simple and easy reporting methods. The need for a unified database was also mentioned as a reason for enhancing coordination.
55. In addition to the instruments of coordination mentioned in the secretariat paper, the Working Group noted the usefulness of a calendar of activities of different statistical agencies of the Government, and of information on their statistical enquiries. However, no improvements could be expected unless the instruments of coordination were utilized effectively; for example, coordination bodies needed to meet regularly, and to promote and monitor statistical coordination actively. The need for coordination of statistical activities concerning administrative data sources was even greater, as those sources were often outside the statistical system.
56. Some representatives described recent and future developments in their statistical systems to facilitate effective and efficient coordination of statistical activities. Improvements in statistical legislation included provisions to assist in the development of statistical capability of other agencies, and the introduction of realistic penalties for breach of confidentiality. The legislative sanction of coordination was considered essential as it allowed the national statistical agencies to exercise a measure of influence over statisticians in other government departments and ensured the provision of funds for statistical activities.
57. The Working Group recommended that countries should provide the secretariat with documents on their statistical legislation; the secretariat would publish in the Statistical Newsletter the list of materials available that other countries could obtain on request.
58. Some representatives described their statistical systems and coordination mechanisms, and provided information concerning statistical coordination bodies and documentation. One country reported that its statistical service was taking steps to meet the social and economic changes of the next decade. Those steps included the review and reorientation of statistical surveys, adjustment in the timing and frequency of major enquiries and expansion of the use of survey results. Improvement of the international comparability of data and promotion of technical cooperation in statistics were also considered important. The Working Group noted the recommendation that, in order to enhance statistical coordination, there was a need to train official statisticians in the area of interpersonal relationships and communication.
VIII. PROGRAMME MATTERS
59. The Working Group had before it two secretariat notes: STAT/WGSE.9/6 entitled "Programme matters: review of the outline of the medium-term plan in statistics, 1998-2001" and STAT/WGSE.9/7 entitled "Programme matters: review of the work programme in statistics, 1996-1997". The Working Group noted that the 1996-1997 programme of work in statistics, which had been reviewed by the Committee on Statistics and the Working Group during their previous sessions, had already been approved by the Commission and the General Assembly. Thus, the secretariat was seeking advice on any changes which might be required to be submitted for endorsement by the Commission at its fifty-second session, to be held in April 1996.
60. The Working Group did not feel it necessary to propose changes to the outline of the medium-term plan or to the programme of work for 1996-1997 as approved by the Commission at its fifty-first session. However, the Working Group felt that it could have made comments more effectively if document STAT/WGSE.9/7 had included information on resources and specific outcomes for each programme element, preferably in tabular form, as well as on progress made in programmed activities. It was agreed that, as in the past, such information would be made available to the Committee on Statistics, and the Committee would be asked to ensure that detailed consideration was given to the programmatic information provided.
61. It was noted that the secretariat had made good progress in initiating the work on statistics on gender issues in the region. In order to ensure further development and institutionalization of activities, it was recommended that that important area should be given a higher priority in the statistical work programme of ESCAP. Another area requiring immediate attention was the estimation of poverty. It was agreed that there should also be significant commitment in the work programme to address the statistical issues arising from the recent United Nations summit meetings in Cairo (the International Conference on Population and Development, 1994), Copenhagen (the World Summit for Social Development, 1995) and Beijing (the Fourth World Conference on Women, 1995).
62. The Working Group noted the very generalized nature in which the work programme outputs were stated and urged that a time-frame be introduced for certain of the activities such as the ESCAP Statistical Information System (ESIS). It also acknowledged, however, that the uncertainty of the regular budget resource situation and almost complete dependence on extrabudgetary sources for funding operational activities made it necessary to maintain a degree of generality in the work programme; that also had the advantage of providing a flexible enabling framework within which a broad range of activities could legitimately be conducted.
IX. PROVISIONAL AGENDA FOR THE TENTH SESSION OF THE COMMITTEE ON STATISTICS
63. The Working Group had before it secretariat note STAT/WGSE.9/8, "Provisional agenda for the tenth session of the Committee on Statistics". It recalled that the Bureau of the Committee on Statistics had already discussed the matter and had generated some ideas for consideration by the Working Group. The Working Group accepted the Bureau's recommendation that under agenda item 5 only statistical activities in the region should be reviewed, while all aspects of public sector computerization should be discussed under one agenda item, that is, item 9 of the tentative provisional agenda.
64. It was stressed that, in the consideration of statistical issues in global forums such as the United Nations Statistical Commission, the regional viewpoint should be adequately reflected. In that regard, the regional body should be proactive in formulating proposals for consideration at the global level, as well as reactive to the United Nations Statistical Commission's decisions. The Working Group agreed that the agenda of the Committee on Statistics should reflect those considerations.
65. It was agreed that the provisional agenda should accommodate an adequate level of discussion on priority areas including statistical issues arising from the global summits, statistics on gender issues, estimation of poverty, critical problems in economic statistics and environment statistics. Several views were expressed as to how those and other topics could be incorporated under item 7 of the agenda; the Working Group decided to introduce sub-items under that item. It was pointed out that due attention should also be paid to more traditional activities such as SNA and the International Comparison Programme. The Working Group noted that the annotated provisional agenda was a useful instrument for indicating the degree of emphasis to be given to a particular topic.
66. The Working Group decided that the tentative provisional agenda for the tenth session of the Committee on Statistics should be revised as follows:
- Opening of the session.
- Adoption of the agenda.
- Report of the Bureau.
- Report of the Working Group of Statistical Experts.
- Review of statistical activities in the region.
- Functioning of the Committee and its Bureau.
- Issues relating to the development of statistics, including those in support of the themes of the Commission:
- Gender statistics;
- Poverty estimation;
- Other statistical implications of the global social summits;
- Critical problems in economic statistics;
- Environment statistics.
- Issues relating to SIAP, including the report of the Governing Board.
- Issues relating to information technology applications and information resource management, and review of public sector computerization activities in the region.
- Programmes of work in statistics, 1996-1997 and 1998-1999, including the development of an integrated presentation of work programmes, and review of the medium-term plan, 1998-2001.
- Other matters.
- Election of the Bureau.
- Adoption of the report.
X. OTHER MATTERS
67. No matters were raised under the item.
XI. ADOPTION OF THE REPORT
68. The Working Group adopted its report on 2 February 1996.
LIST OF DOCUMENTS
- STAT/WGSE.9/L.1: Provisional agenda
- STAT/WGSE.9/L.2: Annotated provisional agenda
- STAT/WGSE.9/1: Implementation of the 1993 System of National Accounts in the developing economies of the ESCAP region
- STAT/WGSE.9/2: Report of the Seminar on Statistics on Trade in Services, Bangkok, 6-10 November 1995
- STAT/WGSE.9/4: Dissemination of statistical information in national statistical offices of the region
- STAT/WGSE.9/5: Statistical coordination within countries
- STAT/WGSE.9/6: Programme matters: review of the outline of the medium-term plan in statistics, 1998-2001
- STAT/WGSE.9/7: Programme matters: review of the work programme in statistics, 1996-1997
- STAT/WGSE.9/8: Provisional agenda for the tenth session of the Committee on Statistics
Country papers for agenda item 6
- a. Australia: Use of information technology in statistics
b. Australia: Implications of the Internet
- Bangladesh: Use of information technology in statistics
- Brunei Darussalam: Status of information technology use in statistics in Brunei Darussalam
- China: Report on the status of information technology use in statistics in China
- Fiji: Status of information technology use in statistics
- Hong Kong: Use of information technology in statistics in Hong Kong
- India: [To be circulated by the country at a later date]
- Indonesia: The status of information technology use in statistics
- Islamic Republic Use of information technology in statistics of Iran
- a. Japan: Status of information technology use in statistics in Japan
b. Japan: Utilization of GIS in the population censuses of Japan
- Lao Peoples's Geographic information system in Lao People's Democratic Democratic Republic: Republic
- Macau: The status of information technology used in statistics in Macau
- Malaysia: Use of information technology in statistics: geographic information system
- Maldives: Use of information technology in statistics
- New Zealand: Overview of information technology in Statistics New Zealand
- Philippines: Use of information technology in statistics in the Philippines
- Republic of Korea: Use of information technology in statistics in the fields of GIS and Internet
- Russian Federation: Use of information technologies in Goskomstat
- a. Singapore: Use of information technology in statistics: status report for Singapore
b. Singapore: Implications of the Internet
- Thailand: Use of information technology in statistics in Thailand
- United Kingdom: Use of information technology in statistics
- Viet Nam: Use of information technology in statistics in Viet Nam