Accuracy vital when working with statistics

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 17 April, 2009, 12:00am

Government policies need to be based on accurate information to be fully effective. Statistics play an integral part in formulation of policy. It is therefore disturbing that data crucial to determining bus fares has been miscalculated. Questions have previously been raised about the Census and Statistics Department's work; confidence has been eroded and every effort has to be made to restore faith.

Hong Kong transport fare calculation is a complex matter. Authorities base it on a formula that takes into account the composite consumer price index, nominal wage indices for transport workers and the operators' productivity rate. The error was found when companies questioned wage index data that would have led to the first fare reduction since the mechanism was put in place in 2006. If the government is going to use statistics to make such decisions, it has to be certain that its numbers are right.

Lower bus fares are not in the offing after the review.

A department spokeswoman blamed the mistake on a field officer's incorrect manual computation of data. She said the department would no longer carry out manual processing and intended to strengthen its sample-quality-check system and data verification. As welcome as these moves may be, previous doubts raised have not been allayed.

Statistics are essential for our city's growth and development. Errors in their collection, collation and use can lead to the government getting its strategies wrong. There are obvious economic and social implications for such mistakes. Population projections that were guiding an array of policies were revised down after public doubts over their accuracy were raised; bus companies would have had a marked drop in profits if the error in calculating the fare-adjustment formula had not been spotted.

The department's work has to be made more accountable. Accuracy must be its foremost goal. There can be no room for error in how its statistics are calculated. Hong Kong will suffer if the highest standards are not assured and maintained.