ECONOMIST THOMAS RAWSKI has underlined a long-held suspicion that China's growth is not what it seems to be. The professor from the University of Pittsburgh maintains that China's gross domestic product figures just cannot be trusted. Mr Rawski finds it unlikely that such strong GDP growth was achieved from 1997 to 2001 while energy consumption was generally declining. He estimates that the real growth figures might have been no more than a third of the published numbers. While China's statistics are getting more accurate, it is no secret that there is a fair amount of shui fen, or water, added to the data. China's economists and their statisticians, admit to the problem. Economists point out that every province, with the exception of Yunnan, had growth equal or above the 7.3 per cent national average last year. Yunnan, with unusual modesty, claimed 6.5 per cent GDP growth for the year while the economic powerhouse of Tibet reported the fastest rise, outpacing Guangdong and Shanghai, with a stunning expansion of 12.6 per cent. Central government statisticians say they adjust the figures supplied from local levels of government, and they call this adjustment 'removing the water'. It is not only GDP numbers that sometimes look suspiciously damp - profit figures that many mainland companies provide investors also look that way. Listed company Guangxia Industrial has been accused of padding its bottom line in 1999 and 2000 to the tune of 745 million yuan (about HK$698.2 million). At least two former senior executives of the company have been charged with providing false information to investors. The Ministry of Finance has revoked the licences of Guangxia's accounting firm, Zhongtianqin Accounting Office, and two chartered accountants involved for their role in the alleged fraud. Perhaps Mr Rawski might also want to look at the accounts of Dongfang Boiler, another listed company that had problems with the authorities. Some of its former senior executives were jailed for life or given suspended death sentences in June 1999 for embezzlement and their roles in inflating profits ahead of a share listing. There is also Hainan Minyuan, where a senior executive was jailed in November 1998 for his part in issuing a fraudulent profit statement which led to wild swings in the trading of the company's stock. More recently, unhappy shareholders have taken legal action aimed at Daqing Lianyi, a small oil refiner at the Daqing oil field in northeastern China, for its publication of falsified financial data. While the money involved was dwarfed by the Enron case in the United States, problems have emerged in a substantial number of companies given the honour of listing on the mainland's stock markets. The problem with the dilution of the truth is not limited to statisticians, accountants and listed companies. Mainland consumers are accustomed to hearing outlandish product claims that go unchallenged. For example, at a trade fair in Shanghai a Guizhou-based company in the fertiliser business which supplies rosemary extract for cosmetics claimed in a brochure that its product resisted tumours and HIV as well as 'other micro-organisms'. Another company at the same fair was taking orders for weight-reducing cream that it said could take off 4.54kg in 15 days without the need to diet. On the subject of excess water, I might point out to readers that even the Pudong airport in Shanghai is struggling with a water-borne problem these days. Alas, this is not, strictly speaking, a matter of statistics. Apparently, the planners were a bit stingy on the facilities for taxi drivers who make the long journey from the city centre to pick up passengers from the city's new and improved airport. It seems little thought was given to the need for toilets for the drivers as they wait for business. Drivers say they have no way to dash into the terminal building to use the facilities for passengers without risking a ticket from traffic police waiting to pounce. While the airport has pay toilets inside a pay parking lot, few taxi drivers want to be charged twice for the privilege of answering a call of nature. Instead, they have been using the side of the road, causing much consternation for the airport authorities. That has led to a crackdown on this unsightly practice and the fining of a number of cabbies. Some alert readers may suspect that I have led you astray and this is a somewhat different issue from diluted statistical data. I assure you this is not the case. I merely wish to point out that as we focus on squeezing out the water, we should not neglect the need for proper facilities. If the mainland authorities are successful in this important task, they might win the thanks not only of economists, statisticians and investors, but also the nation's taxi drivers.