Lies, Damn Lies and Government Statistics

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Lies, Damn Lies and Government Statistics

--BY MADAN LAMSAL

It is said that there was once a famous statistician in India. When he was asked to analyse something, he would ask in return, “Kaisa analysis chahiye, ruling wala ki opposition wala (what kind of analysis do you want – the ruling party's or the opposition's)?” It is said he knew 32 tricks to draw two completely opposite conclusions based on the same sets of statistics. Going by the government’s statistics and that of the opposition in Nepal, it seems we have statisticians who have 64 such tricks up their sleeves!

Some examples will make it more straightforward. The government recently carried out a half-yearly review of the country’s annual budget and said all economic indicators were positive. But when my eyes scan the pages of the newspapers in the country, I see stories of losses and deficits everywhere. The budget deficit, trade deficit, current account deficit, the balance of payment deficit, etc. Similarly, factories and industrial plants, Nepal Oil Corporation, and Nepal Airlines Corporation are all now loss-making companies. Add to this are several other public enterprises. All this leaves me utterly dumbfounded, and I am tempted to think that GDP doesn’t actually stand for ‘Gross Domestic Product’ but ‘Government Driven Propaganda’! I am tempted to believe that the numbers and figures the government is showing us can’t be genuine and are manhandled by it just to show us what it wants to show us!

Is the actual truth so beaten down that it's become pointless to fight for it anymore?

I also feel as if the various types of deficits and losses that the government’s statistics present indicate the losses and deficits in my own life. When I am reminded of the multiple rates of taxes, my own family budget, and different EMIs that I have to pay to banks, a feeling instantly grows inside me - as if these news reports are written only to torture me mentally and psychologically. But life, too, needs to move forward. And I, too, need to move forward blowing the trumpet of life, carefully striking a balance no matter what.

But again, it occurs to me that this budgetary world is very wise, intelligent, and clever and has been managing its budget correctly. In this whole world, I think I am the only fool who has neither any idea nor knowledge about budget management nor understands the technical words associated with budgets and profits. For example, the government keeps repeating the phrase – income tax. The government thinks income tax is something it has earned itself and is its own income. But the people, on their part, believe that income tax is their hard-earned money which the government takes away from them without giving anything in return!

When you say in-come, the money should be coming in, but instead, it goes out from your pocket! Similarly, other phrases like excise duty and VAT. Who is supposed to pay these taxes? I think it's the producers or manufacturers of goods and service providers but they charge the consumers exorbitant amounts in the end! How fair is that? Another thing that never fails to amaze me is how come the indicators fluctuate so much in the jungle of statistics or, in other words, keep rising and falling? I read about the share market news in newspapers or watch it on the TV. They say the market rose or fell by this much and that much. But the share market experts say the very system of Nepse is faulty. Who am I supposed to believe? Why does the share market go red all of a sudden and then green within a few days? This is something I have not been able to understand so far. They say the market is bearish or bullish. But I only see a foolish market!

Soon after being formed, this government claimed that the country would achieve a 7-8% growth rate. But neither has investment increased nor has there been any change in our production technology. How do you expect growth in such a situation? It’s beyond my comprehension. But in the half-yearly review of the budget, the government asserted that the growth rate target would be achieved! Does anyone have any magic trick to do that? And is this trick applied to the statistics or the work? Or are we talking about the two- and three-digit economic growth rates of the sarkar- wallhas (those in the government)?

Let’s take another example. The government says 90% of the people now have electricity in the country so any surplus electricity produced now will go to waste. But many are crying out that they have no electricity. Who are you supposed to believe? Who is telling the truth and who is lying? Is this information or misinformation? Isn’t this data doubtful? They say there are three kinds of lies – just plain lies, white lies, and statistics! Is this just a plain lie? Or a white lie? Or statistics?     

In George Orwell’s classic novel Animal Farm, one of the government’s ministers announces the growth in different development indicators every year. But the experience of the general animals is exactly the opposite. In the same way, in the budget of our government, both investment and expenditure are seen rising. And the government claims growth in every sector. But ask the general public who will tell you that hardly anything has changed and costs are rising. They will tell you that their lives have become worse than before. That the rising prices are already breaking their backs. But the pain and suffering of the common people are not mentioned in statistics. It seems their pains are invisible which cannot be seen by the government but feel by the common people only.  Everything is growing when it comes to statistics. For example, the production of paddy has kept increasing, according to government statistics. But ask the traders and they will tell you that the import of paddy, too, has gone up over the past decade. However, the population hasn’t increased that much. Where does the surplus paddy go? The government’s statistics show that everything is trending upwards. But then why don’t we see the rising prices in the government's statistics?   Strangely, import of vegetables and fruits is growing whereas the farmers are lamenting that their vegetables and fruits are either  rotting or becoming delicious food of the beast. This paradox only happens in Nepal.

The country's newspapers and columns have been filled with such questions. Television and radio shows have been doing the same thing. But it seems the government’s budget, the jargon and technical words included in it, and the government’s statistics will always remain beyond comprehension of common men including me. Do you understand these government statistics? Or am I the only dunce here? 

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