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Time to end data falsification for better decision-making

By Wang Xiaoguang | China Daily | Updated: 2024-02-27 07:05


Appropriate economic decision-making, essentially, depends on the accuracy and reliability of data. To make informed decisions, it is necessary to adhere to the principles of seeking truth, analyzing trends and solving problems based on statistics. "Truth seeking" and "trend analyzing" involve analyzing and understanding the inherent trends of events, representing positive factors and the development direction. "Problem-solving", on the other hand, entails finding solutions to burning issues.

Despite no big increase in the number of data falsification cases, the harmful effects of falsifying data can become horrendous. In particular, as data are a vital economic element, serving as both the "eyes" of economic decision-makers and the "pulse" of the wealth of enterprises and individuals, the harmful effects of data falsification are primarily manifested in three ways.

First, it severely disrupts central decision-making. Since government decisions and actions play a significant role in modern economic development, officials could take inappropriate economic decisions if data are severely distorted, leading to counterproductive economic regulations.

Second, data falsification undermines government credibility. Information and credibility are the two pillars of modern economies. As a public good, official data reflect a government's credibility, and falsification of official data causes a government to lose face and credibility, undermining market confidence.

And third, data falsification is especially unfair and harmful to directly affected regions, enterprises and individuals, as it could cause huge losses to them.

Data falsification in some regions and departments in China can be attributed to three main factors. Some people try to conceal the truth to evade responsibilities and obligations. Some others engage in painting a rosy picture of their economic performance while concealing the negative aspects. And some manipulate data for personal gain, in order to advance their career or get specific economic benefits through official positions and data rent-seeking activities.

To enhance the credibility of official data and the scientific nature of economic decision-making, China has made various institutional arrangements. For instance, it conducts a census every five years, and has intensified the review and approval of data since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China in 2012.

The goal is to safeguard the authenticity of data. The CPC Central Committee issued the revised regulations on Party disciplinary actions at the end of last year, explicitly making "statistical falsification" a violation of Party discipline, sending a strong signal that the Party has become increasingly strict about overall discipline enforcement and will punish data falsification more forcefully.

However, apart from strengthening legal and Party disciplinary constraints, there is a need to reform the cadre selection process and appointment mechanism, breaking the one-sided evaluation criterion of "only numerical achievements" and putting greater emphasis on the actual performance and capabilities of leading officials.

Simultaneously, there is a need to strengthen the scientific and comprehensive nature of the cadre assessment system. This approach aims to increase the cost of illegal activities, rendering statistical falsification unprofitable. Only through such measures can the impulse for data falsification be curbed.

So to eradicate "data falsification" and improve macroeconomic decision-making and government credibility, continuous improvements in relevant systems and technical means are necessary so as to deter potential wrongdoers.

To begin with, there is a need to enhance and implement the leading officials assessment and appointment system in line with the new development concepts and high-quality development principle.

Besides, establishing a normal supervision mechanism is crucial, and it should incorporate issues such as data falsification in the inspection items of central disciplinary and national supervision departments, as well as resolutely addressing "number seeking" and statistical corruption issues in statistics departments.

In this regard, improving technical supervision procedures and means to plug the loopholes compromising the authenticity of official data, such as mandating uniform data disclosure timelines among regions, is an essential step forward.

The author is a professor at the department of economics of the Party School of the Communist Party of China Central Committee (the National Academy of Governance). The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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