How credible is Sri Lanka's Department of Census and Statistics?

Director General, Department of Census and Statistics, D.C.A. Gunawardena, Deputy Governor, Central Bank, Nandalal Weerasinghe and an official of the department. Pic: Vipula Amarasinghe (Sunday Observer)
Director general of Department of Census and Statistics of Sri Lanka D.C.A. Gunawardena re-assured that all national data and statistics are compiled and issued according to international standards.

Speaking through national radio Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, he further said that well trained and highly qualified officials had been deployed to prepare statistics. Therefore, no one could demean the quality of information issued by the department, he argued.

His statement came in the backdrop of the Department’s Account Division Director H.S. Wanasinghe alleging in December that the Director General of the Department of the Census and Statistics had advised him to ‘massage’ Sri Lanka’s economic growth rate.

Wanasinghe has been transferred out of the Department and faces a disciplinary inquiry by the Department. He made a detailed statement to an investigating officer during an initial inquiry leveling the charge.

The Department of Census and Statistics announced last week that the report of the census on human death and property damages during the three-decade long conflict would be released next month just ahead of the challenging United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva in March.

The major Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance expressed doubts on the survey saying that the census conducted by the government on human and material losses due to the war will attempt to play down the number of casualties. 

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.

We have several questions:

  • Can Wananasinghe's statement be rejected based on the Director General's argument that it was mere personal conflict?

  • Now, an investigation is underway against Wanasinghe on disciplinary grounds. Is there any investigation about his allegation?

  • What steps will the government take to build up the lost credibility of the Department of Census and Statistics?


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