A top official in a statement alleged that the Director General of the Department of the Census and Statistics had advised him to ‘massage’ Sri Lanka’s economic growth rate.
The Department’s Account Division Director H.S. Wanasinghe made this revelation during an investigation, the report of which was filed as a document in Court and referred to in Parliament last week.
The Department of Census and Statistics is the main body which collects, analyses and interprets economic data among its other functions.
Mr. Wanasinghe has been transferred out of the Department and faces a disciplinary inquiry by the Department. The detailed statement was made to an investigating officer during an initial inquiry.
The veteran statistician with 30 years’ service in the department said on June 17, 2013 the Deputy Director General one Ms. Nigamuni had called him and said the Director General had insisted on the economic growth rate specified by his department be tampered with and changed. The statement by Mr. Wanasinghe was read out in Parliament last week by JVP MP Anura Kumara Dissanayake.
“On June 14, 2013 I presented the national accounts for the first quarter to the Director General by way of an email at 4.53 p.m. Thereafter I went to my home in Kandy because it was the weekend. I was not present at the office on June 17 because I was not well and I informed the Deputy Director General Nigamuni. Half an hour later Ms. Nigamuni called me and told me that the Director General had insisted on the Economic Growth rate being changed to 6.0%,” Mr. Wanasinghe’s statement said.
The statement then details the process under which the calculations are done and said the economic growth rate was calculated at 5.5% following extensive discussions and expert analysis and opinion.
“On June 13, 2013, we had extensive discussions with the participation of the head statistician, assistant statistician, officials of the statistical department, senior statisticians, and the Deputy Director on the summary of the quarterly national accounts. It was thereupon calculated that the growth rate was 5.5% with a 0.1% difference from the previous. I thereafter e-mailed the Director General at 3.30 pm the same day the details,” the statement said.
The Director in his statement reveals that Ms. Nigamuni, the Deputy Director General had insisted that the necessary amendments were made as the Director General D.C.A Gunawardena was insisting on the matter being looked into immediately.
“When I told her that I will come the following day to office and make the necessary amendments according to the advice given to me, the Deputy Director General insisted that it be done immediately as the Director General was insisting on it. Thereafter I had to ‘Skype’ my colleagues and suggest that if we are to change the Economic Growth we would have to look at the primary data that was collected,” he said.
The Director said the previous figure derived for the Economic Growth was 5.4% and was forwarded to the Director General.
“On June 6, 2013, the Director General called me at around 8.30 p.m. on my mobile phone and asked me about my wellbeing and other such trivialities. Thereafter said he had looked at the estimates I sent him (of 5.4%). He wanted me to re-check the Agriculture, Banking, Internal Trade, Electricity, Food and Tobacco divisions. He said I should be mindful of the interpretations already released by the treasury and the Central Bank,” he said.
Meanwhile UNP economic affairs spokesman Harsha De Silva said the revelations were shocking.
“It’s a shocking revelation. If this is true it brings down the credibility of all government data. We call for an immediate investigation headed by a senior independent person into this. This is exactly what happened prior to the falling of the Greek economy where there had been a repeated doctoring of data,” he said.
Speaking to Daily Mirror, JVP parliamentary group leader Anura Kumara Dissanayake, who initially made the revelations in parliament last week, said this was the first evidence received that the data provided by the government was doctored.
“There is a notion in the country that the data presented by the government with regard to the economy was tampered or doctored. However, this was the first time that concrete evidence of such acts has been revealed. This in fact questions the credibility of all the data that the government has provided throughout. Therefore we immediately call for independent investigations into the matter instead of looking the other way and hushing it up,” he said.
He urged the government to come up with a proper methodology in calculating national statistics and reveal it to the public.
Responding to the statement made by one of his Directors, the Census and Statistics Department’s Director General D.C.A Gunawardena denied any wrong doing. Following is the brief interview conducted by the Daily Mirror.
What have you to say about the allegations made against you?
There is a methodology under which the GDP is decided. He can’t go above this methodology; all I asked him was to re visit this. He is talking about an unofficial figure and an official figure. Prior to his appointment the power of the Director General was known and that stands. He hasn’t followed any of the procedures and without doing that there is no point in screaming at people.
You have to understand that we have portrayed minus economic growth and positive economic growth, even if the inflation is higher than what we have said. Check the World Bank and IMF figures and see the questions that arise.
You are only looking at what he has said in his statement during the initial investigations, but you have not looked at what I have said.
Can you give it to us?
No there is no procedure under which I could. This is like a soda bottle which opens suddenly and closes. We can’t let this country be directed at the whims and fancies of individuals.
What is the progress of the investigation against this Director?
Its ongoing after the initial investigations and a disciplinary inquiry, the matter will be forwarded to the Public Services Commission. If two people in the department are fighting it should be settled within the department itself and not be taken beyond the department. Is there any benefit for the country? If I am the Director General and you are my employee would you not listen to what I say? That’s why there is a vertical and horizontal management system and this is how the Director Generals have worked. If not how can a department function? (Hafeel Farisz)