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ECA says quality data vital to supporting African progress

A lot still need to be done to improve timeliness, dissemination and credibility of statistics for evidence decision making in economic management, poverty reduction and in all aspects of socio-economic development processes in Africa, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) said Tuesday.

Announcing data quality as the focus of this year’s African Statistics Day, the Commission pointed out that unreliable, delayed and poor quality statistics affected African countries in different ways.

African Statistics Day is marked 18 Nov. every year to increase public awareness over the important role that statistics play in all aspects of social and economic life.

Refocusing its statistical function towards data quality and following wide consultations with countries, ECA said the theme for this year’s celebration would be “Quality Data to support African Progress”.

In Africa, data quality is an essential tool for monitoring the achievement of national development plans and international development goals, mainly poverty reduction strategy papers, regional integration and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

According to the ECA, this year’s theme provides an opportunity to advocate support for major statistical operations, including population censuses and surveys.

In order to better development outcomes, the Commission has cautioned that while unreliable data may falsely allow a country to reach the eligibility requirements for debt relief or access membership to a monetary zone, it can subsequently destabilise the zone when the real figure is revealed.

“Insufficient accessibility due to confidentiality also creates delayed policy responses, during financial and economic crisis, despite the availability of leading economic indicators,” the ECA said. “Typically, quality statistics may be used for planning, for forecasting and for crises prevention.”

The Commission noted, however, that progress has been made by many African countries to improve the quality of their statistics, including compliance with international standards, methodological soundness and accessibility.

But, “the prevailing practice and resource constraints do not guarantee the independence, integrity and accountability of the national statistical systems” in some cases where the compilation of statistics suffers from political pressures to obstruct the methodology and schedule of releases of statistics.

“Moreover, the quality of primary data sources represents a serious challenge, namely the data collection from national agency custodians of administrative records and the heavy response burden of surveys and censuses.

“The challenges of conducting censuses and surveys are mainly budget constraints, low response rate and delays in data release due to insufficient skilled staff for data processing,” ECA added.

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