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French Version


IMF lends data expertise to Beirut new... - The Daily Star

IMF lends data expertise to Beirut new system will at last produce useful figures on GDP, growth Program will treat local deficiencies by imposing international norms - The Daily Star

With the help of the International Monetary Fund and other financial organizations, Lebanon could finally have a vestige of a statistics system by mid-2003, redeeming its checkered past of missing data.

The General Data Dissemination System (GDDS), an IMF statistics program adopted officially by the Lebanese government in September of this year, promises to be a panacea for Lebanon's statistics deficiency.

The idea behind GDDS is to unify the standards of compiling data in Lebanon with international norms, particularly IMF standards. The system, which has been adopted by four other Arab countries already, has been espoused by the Central Bank's vice-governor, Nasser Saidi. He is GDDS's coordinator in Lebanon and he is touting the benefits of a system that could bring more credibility to government statistics.
"We are working to launch by mid-next year a portal, called Lebstat, providing all available statistics on Lebanon," said Saidi, a former minister of economy, trade and industry.
"We estimate the overall project will cost between $3 million to $5 million over the years. It is being financed by various organizations."
The Central Bank is chipping in, but the rest of the cash may come from organizations such as the World Bank.
But the Central Bank's work will not be easy. The portal, at the end of the day, will have to garner statistics from various government ministries, who have lagged in the past in providing accurate statistics on time. If they fail to meet the deadline set down by GDDS, the portal will not get all the information it needs.

Still, the GDDS system is unlikely to fill all of the data loopholes in Lebanon. Figures such as those for gross domestic product (GDP) and growth have been missing for years in Lebanon, and fieldwork in the form of surveys will be needed to compile them. It is not GDDS's responsibility to come up with GDP or any other figures. "We are not here to replace ministries or administrations," said Saidi.

In theory, the Central Administration for Statistics (CAS) is the body responsible for disseminating figures, but it has been debilitated over the years.

According to an IMF delegation that visited Lebanon in spring this year to assess its statistical might, the dearth of clear figures in Lebanon is often puzzling. "The reliability and coverage of macroeconomic statistics in Lebanon are inadequate for effective monitoring of economic developments and policy formulation, with the exception of monetary and financial statistics," said the IMF team in a report. It recommended a new statistics law to replace the antiquated decree of 1979, which defines the authority of CAS. The IMF mission further argued against absolving CAS from compiling national account statistics, as is the case now.
"The mission is not convinced that the decision to abandon the compilation of national accounts estimates for 1997 to 2000 is appropriate in the context of the urgent need to produce such statistics in Lebanon," said the team in its report. "It is not practical or realistic to wait until every single precondition for data collection is fully met before Lebanon proceeds with the compilation of national accounts statistics."

Currently, the French statistics institute INSEE is helping the government compile some figures on GDP. Some economists have argued that the IMF has often been displeased with the figures presented by Lebanese officials, who are said to practice some creative accounting.

But Saidi argued the GDDS system was not imposed by the IMF, which regularly tries to assess Lebanon's financial status with few official figures to back up its progress reports.
"We asked to be included in this system and it was adopted in a Cabinet decree issued Sept. 5 this year," said Saidi. According to the decree, the Finance Ministry requested Lebanon be included in the GDDS system, followed in 55 countries. The GDDS, though, has yet to include social-demographic figures, such as a population census. Lebanon has not conducted a comprehensive official population census since 1932, although the Social Affairs Ministry published some population figures in 1996.

CAS is currently working on issuing inflation figures by next year. The Central Bank is also busy compiling statistics to issue next year.
"We plan to publish figures on foreign direct investment in collaboration with the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA)," said Saidi. "The Bank is also compiling statistics on Leban-ese investments abroad and remittances/transfers coming into Lebanon."

Beirut 26-11-2002
Dania Saadi
The Daily Star



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