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Where the planned Statistics Law amendment cannot reach
Last Updated(Beijing Time):2005-11-28 09:53

By Ou Guofeng

After about 22 years of its launch, China's practicing Statistics Law is in face of the second amendment while the previous amendment was conducted in 1996, 10 years ago from now on. The official version is that the core of this amendment is to enhance the quality of statistic data.

However, such an official thinking was called into question. When interviewed by the monthly journal Economics, Dong Ansheng, professor of Law School of Renmin University of China, asserted that "such a partial emphasis on the law amendment by some relevant sectors was actually a kind of simplification of some complex problems." What he worried about was that over-reliance on the amendment of the law with "focusing on one point while ignoring others" may very probably depress the original good wills.

In China, it is the statistical agencies at all levels, from central to local, that specialize in the statistics of various macro indexes concerning the whole society and the operation of national economy. At the national level, there is National Bureau of Statistics of China, which is one of the agencies directly under the State Council with the Commissioner holding a position of a vice-minister of the State Council; at local, there are statistical bureaus at the province, prefecture (municipal) and county levels belonging to their respective local governments respectively. It's just such construction of administrative system that is now being charged as the system root responsible for the infidelity of statistic data.

Statistic data are collected and reported to the upper level by local statistical agencies. Officials of local statistic agencies are mainly supervised by local governments, and such agencies mainly rely on local governments for their outlays. Statistic data have a close connection with the rewards and punishment as well as promotions of those involved officials as they can reflect the achievements of local government leaders at different levels. Therefore it can be seen as the "achievement list" of local government leaders, which is filled in by officials appointed and supervised by these very leaders; in that way, the independence of statistical practice is vulnerable to be damaged, which is a careless omission when designing the system. 

In late August, news from the foundation ceremony of the expert consulting group under the National Bureau of Statistics on the amendment of Statistics Law and the expert consulting conference on the amendment of Statistics Law said that the amendment was to be made with efforts to solve six major problems and the foremost one is to further consummate the legal system ensuring that the authority of statistical agencies and statisticians to conduct independent investigations, independent reports and independent supervision will not be violated. In the light of such a thinking, to set up an internal vertical administrative system will undoubtedly help to assure its independence.

However, for the prospect of building vertical administrative system in statistical institutions below provincial level through the amendment of Statistics Law, Dong Ansheng showed his worry that "It must be pretty hard since the huge resistance from local governments, and further more it involves significant adjustment to the whole framework of government organization from the upper to the lower level."

What prescription is this amendment of Statistics Law inclined to make toward the current statistical system? It's introduced that the National Bureau of Statistics is now carrying out institution reform on rural social economic survey team, urban social economic survey team and enterprise survey team. Namely, to incorporate the three survey teams, which are originally factored by local statistical bureaus, into one to found a new survey institution. These survey institutions, as the local branch offices of the National Bureau of Statistics, are mainly responsible for the fulfillment of various tasks assigned by the National Bureau of Statistics, carrying out legally independent statistic investigations as well as independent reporting and delivering of statistic data. The reform is now on its progress and the constitution of provincial survey teams is expected to be completed by the end of this year. Therefore, the legal status and the authority of law execution of these survey teams send by the National Bureau of Statistics are to be clarified in the amendment of Statistics Law.

The due function of statistic data, from macro-level to micro-level in turn, is to provide overall and reliable information for government to make a judgment on macro political and economic situation and then launch relative policies, various economic entities and research institutions to make corresponding investment and research, and even families and individuals to make some decisions. However, at present whether the coverage or the reliability of statistic data is actually far from satisfied.

Take the coverage of official statistic data as an instance only. For a long time, the development concept of "efficiency priority" makes economic development a priority in China; even worse such "efficiency priority" had been distorted as "concerning GDP only" in some regions for some time, which seriously affected official statistics to lay particular stress on economic indexes while indexes such as society and humanity were belittled or even ignored. One of the functions of official statistic data in China is to provide a set of quantifiable officials performance assessment reference. If the statistic orientation can be really changed actually also depends on whether the corresponding adjustment in officials performance assessment system can be done or not.

Statistics is also a kind of activity that requires high professional ability. The quality of statistic data has a close relationship with its information resource platform as well as the methods it applied, which are still where Statistics Law cannot reach.

Most of China's official statistic data come from accountants, whose false accounting statements will directly lead to the infidelity of statistic data, which means that the quality of statistic data is closely related with the credit condition of the whole society, which actually has gone beyond the single jurisdiction of statistical agencies.

In view of foreign successful experiences and the reform tendency of China's government system, the future trend of domestic statistic pattern should be a one that various statistic forms coexist – the combination of government statistics and department statistics, the combination of government statistics and enterprise statistics and the combination of government statistics and non-government statistics. On one hand, non-government statistics will complement government statistics; on the other hand, it is easier for non-government statistic organizations with high efficiency and good credit to win an upper hand in the relatively fair competition among non-government statistic organizations operating according to the rules for marketization, which will have the quality of China's statistics wholly improved in turn. 
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