Officials warned on reporting data
MARK O'NEILL in Beijing
Do you believe Chinese statistics? That was the question posed at a national television and telephone meeting chaired by Vice-Premier Wen Jiabao.
Mr Wen used the occasion to urge officials to tell the truth and to resist attempts to falsify information for the sake of their personal or departmental advantage.
The Economic Daily yesterday quoted Mr Wen as saying officials must follow an order issued in February by the Communist Party's Central Committee and the State Council for them to implement the Statistics Law, which came into effect last year.
The fact that the government needs to have such a national meeting chaired by an official as senior as Mr Wen reflects the continuing uncertainty about its statistics.
Mr Wen said interference in collecting or reporting data would not be tolerated by the government.
He also warned officials that no revenge must be taken against any subordinates who reported correctly, admitting a common practice in many agencies.
The vice-premier said there must be no cover-up of false statistics by any district, department or work unit.
At a seminar last week, Qiu Xiaohua, spokesman of the State Statistical Bureau (SSB), stoutly defended its record.
He said that the bureau used international standards and that its data was reliable.
Unlike other agencies, he said, the SSB had no vested interest in reporting incorrect figures.
The SSB issues a flood of economic data - monthly and annually - and while foreign economists say the information is generally more accurate than it used to be, they still have reservations about its reliability.
Foreign economists say they are wary of the heavy political pressure on officials to meet government targets - for example, for growth in population or inflation - on which their jobs will depend.
Foreign observers are not alone in their concern. Many members of the public regard official data with the same scepticism as they treat Communist Party newspapers, reflecting their mistrust of bureaucrats.