x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Investors set to tap into data revolution

Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi aims to convince more government agencies to share their information.

Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (Scad) is seeking to convince more Government agencies in the emirate to share their information, as it bids to fill a void in public decision-making with meaningful data.

The centre is attempting to convince other government bodies that its methods represent a gold standard for quality.

It is also increasing the variety of statistical data published by the emirate, which will include quarterly GDP figures from next month.

"We're trying to build this kind of trust between the government and private sector," said Butti Ahmed Mohammed bin Butti Al Qubaisi, the director general of Scad, which is beginning a two-day international conference on the subject today.

At present, many government agencies compile their own statistics internally, which often lack the kind of statistical rigour or timeliness demanded by international investors.

"Transparency is very important and trust is very important," Mr Al Qubaisi added.

"The Statistics Centre has been in existence from 2009 but I think it's now one of the strongest players on the ground for our development, and to build this kind of decision-making and strategy it's very important to have this kind of reputation."

The drive to enable greater public access to data represents a significant step towards greater openness for Abu Dhabi, which launches many of its policies without any great fanfare and does not publish its own budget - giving access to its finances only to the IMF.

Both the Dubai Government and the federal Government publish financial information, although the level of detail varies.

However, federal institutions and the private sector are becoming more comfortable sharing information. The Ministry of Finance and the Central Bank have recently signed up the UAE's banks to share data as part of the Al Etihad Credit Bureau, in a move expected to reduce risks in the financial sector and make it easier for borrowers to access credit.

Scad currently publishes 544 different datapoints and is preparing to launch quarterly reports on GDP for the emirate next month, as the Government seeks better quality data on the local economy to drive investment.

A breakdown of economic activity in Abu Dhabi City, Al Ain and the Western Region is expected to follow next year.

The push towards greater disclosure of data was "fantastic" news for economists and investors looking towards the emirate, said Rachel Ziemba, the director of emerging markets at Roubini Global Economics.

"From a macroeconomic perspective it's definitely a positive," she said. "It's also something that's very important from a policy perspective to have that improved quality data to have an early warning sign on development."

Better data would also help the Government to benchmark its own activities better and assess where its policy drives are successful, Ms Ziemba added.