RAS AL KHAIMAH // The emirate's economic growth is hampered by a lack of transparency and co-ordination in the private sector, making it impossible to gather vital statistics, senior government officials said. Statisticians trying to collect data to measure economic sectors are often stymied by language barriers and employees who have insufficient knowledge to complete surveys, the officials said at a conference. As a result, only 42 per cent of RAK's economy has been measured. "We have found ourselves in a mess, in a critical situation, because we know the results cannot reflect a real situation," said Dr Djamel Bellout, the statistics administration director for the RAK Department of Economic Development. Dr Talib Hassan al Hayally, the statistics administration deputy director, said the department found it difficult to get accurate information because private-sector business owners and decision makers often delegated work to employees who do not know enough to complete the surveys. This caused a "weakness in the data", Dr Hayally said. "The first obstacle is that most of the workers in private establishments speak and write in Urdu," he said. "The second obstacle is that the people we surveyed in these establishments don't have much information. Original owners and decision-makers were not there." Dr Djamel said different methods of data collection in each emirate could confuse investors and policymakers. There was competition between the emirates, he said, and pressure to make the gross domestic product look bigger than it is. Academics at the international conference, titled "The Impact of Information and Integrated Statistical Systems on Socio-Economical Development," praised the RAK Department of Economic Development for its honesty regarding its data problems. The RAK Government has been developing an autonomous statistics institute to improve standards of methods and accuracy. It is the third emirate to do so, after Abu Dhabi and Dubai. The institute would classify data according to the United Nations system of International Standard Industrial Classification of All Economic Activities (ISIC). "In the future, we must complete all according to ISIC, which divides the economy into 12 sectors," Dr Djamel said. He said those sectors include agriculture, industry, electricity and power, real estate, tourism, trading, and construction. The ISIC system has been revised five times since it was introduced in 1948. During the conference local and international speakers discussed the importance of reliable, transparent and trusted data in policy development. "Official statistics are fundamental to good government, delivery of public services and decision making in all sectors of society," said Prof Denise Lievesley, the keynote speaker and a president of the International Statistics Institute. "Better statistics means better decisions and better outcomes in contrast to opinion-based policy. "We need an evidence base at all stages in the policy process so the data we collect must be driven by policy needs, but we also need to maintain independence." Prof Lievesley listed four priorities for governments: calculating values in statistical agencies, building trust in statistical systems, ensuring data is relevant to policy and celebrating and supporting good leaders. "A prerequisite for evidence-based policy and for managing results is that data must be trustworthy and it must be trusted." Autonomous statistical offices and statistical legislation were vital in building this trust, Prof Lievesley added. Opening the conference on the weekend, Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, Crown Prince and Deputy Ruler of Ras al Khaimah, said: "The collapse of the economy in the US and Europe will influence all other countries. Today we are in need of accurate information and transparency to meet this crisis." Also addressing the conference, Sheikh Nahyan bin Mubarak, the Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research, said: "We have to adopt the best international practices and co-operate regionally and internationally." Sheikh Nahyan stressed the importance of "quick feedback and response, especially regarding the current economic and social situation". The conference was hosted by the RAK Department of Economic Development and UAE University. National and international statisticians and academics presented 38 papers. AZacharias@thenational.ae
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