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Unbiased data key to sound economic policy-making

Independent agencies gathering data, analysing them, and getting the results for the guidance for the government is of utmost importance as it helps the authorities take informed decisions, a top economist said yesterday.

"If government agencies and politicians interfere in data analysis, they will never get the right answer and they will be blamed tomorrow for their failure today," said Nurul Islam, former deputy chairman of the planning commission who worked with the Father of the Nation Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman.

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"It is important to let the data gathering independently done and also research be done by independent agencies."

He spoke at the Annual BIDS Conference on Development at the Lakeshore hotel in Dhaka on the occasion of 50 years of Bangladesh. Organised by the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies, the three-day conference began yesterday. 

"They [policy-makers] can accept the results. If they are unable, they can explain to the people why they are unable to do this.

So, their inability is understood by the posterity and present generation."

Mashiur Rahman, economic affairs adviser to the prime minister, said planning mechanism in Bangladesh is autonomous that has enjoyed independence without interference from the political leadership.

Nurul Islam, emeritus fellow of the International Food Policy Research Institute, called economic policy-making by the planning ministry and the finance ministry important.

"The analysis has to be non-political. Otherwise, economic policy-making is impossible."

"It can't be outsourced. I know, in Bangladesh, this kinds of researches are outsourced," he said, without disclosing any names.

"This is destructive in my view of the building the capacity of the government."

Islam said when he ran the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics, he had enjoyed a complete independence when it came to research.

He worked with Bangabandhu from 1972 to 1975. "I discussed with him about corruption, mis-governance and other issues, and he was very frank with me."

"He allowed me to give him all the facts… the ruthless details. Bangabandhu also allowed facts to be out for that whether he would take decisions or not were his business," Islam said, adding that he had allowed total independence of data gathering and research. 

Those who are the followers of Bangabandhu should remember how Bangabandhu treated independent data gathering and research, said the former planning commission deputy chief.

He termed nepotism, favouritism, embezzlement of funds, and capture of state power as corruption, and urged the BIDS to carry out research into these areas.

He said there was something wrong in the management of the ministries that don't allow incentives to the government officials to stay into research.

Binayak Sen, director-general of the BIDS, said Bangladesh was fast-becoming a manufacturing nation.

To a large extent, this explains Bangladesh's catch-up performance with respect to its regional neighbours in economic and social parameters. "Success in urbanisation of Bangladesh is reflective of its success in manufacturing sector," he said while presenting a paper.

During his keynote presentation, Prof Rehman Sobhan, chairman of the Centre for Policy Dialogue, said in independent Bangladesh, loan financing from state-owned financial institution did serve to create a large entrepreneurship class.

"But this was achieved at the cost of debt defaults from the new class of private entrepreneurs. This default has been perpetuated and condoned over the years and remains with us as part of what is known as default culture."

About the role of the working women in driving the entrepreneur revolution, Prof Sobhan said what is noticeable in the entrepreneur revolution is the rise of women entrepreneurship at all levels.

"It is arguable that this revolution had its roots in the microfinancing revolution pioneered in Bangladesh by Muhammad Yunus through Grameen Bank and Fazle Hasan Abed through Brac."

Prof Sobhan said there have a considerable research evidence at hand to confirm that microfinance has served to reduce extreme poverty, created a capacity for entrepreneurship amongst women, and has provided a ladder for them to move up into larger scale economic activities in the SME sector.

Highlighting the entrepreneurial spirit of migrant workers, he said as a consequence of the courage and enterprise by the youth, Bangladesh earns around $20 billion in official remittances and perhaps another $5 billion in unofficial payments.

This has served to raise the gross national savings, improve external balance payments and increase domestic payments. But they are exploited and exposed to a huge rent extraction by unscrupulous intermediaries.    

He described the NGOs and social entrepreneurs as agent of social mobilisation.

In a paper presented at the conference, Zahid Hussain, a former lead economist of the World Bank in Dhaka, said the implementation rate of the annual development programme declined to an 11-year low recently.

"Our problem has never been the lack of intention to spend more; the problem is in our ability to turn intentions into meaningful actions."