Work on Census 2021 has begun

The Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) is the statistical agency under the National Planning Commission (NPC) and is responsible for the collection, consolidation, processing, analysis and publication of statistics. It has recently concluded the first ever Economic Census and is gearing up for the next census. Modnath Dhakal of The Rising Nepal daily has talked to Director General of the CBS Suman Raj Aryal about the Economic Census and the economic structure as shown by it, upcoming census and other issues. Excerpts:suman

The CBS has recently launched the report of the first ever National Economic Census 2018. Briefly tell about its process.

This is the creation of history as the first census in 1911 and first Agricultural Census in 1961. We have covered all the existing and active economic establishment except government agencies and bilateral and multilateral donor organisations. All the economic units are classified as per the International Standard of Industrial Classification (ISIC) revision 4 which has created 21 economic categories.
The census was undertaken to create a data infrastructure for the economic policies and programmes for all three levels of governments. The country did not have segregated data of the provincial and local level which the census has fulfilled with the presentation of minimum economic dataset. It has also created a sample framework for the future surveys and prepared a statistical business register. We will soon publish the register listing all the economic establishment across the country.
Likewise, we have developed an online system for survey called e-census during the Economic Census which reduced the time, cost and process of the data collection and entry. The system can be used in the future as well.

What were the areas covered in the census?
Of the 21 areas prescribed by the ISIC we have fully covered 17 areas while agriculture is partially covered as the establishment-oriented survey will not give the perfect picture and we have to conduct census to get the detailed information. We have Agricultural Census for that. We have left the government agencies since the data is readily available with the Auditor General Office and Department of Civil Personnel Records. Likewise, home-based workers have also been omitted, the census will record it. The extra-territorial organisations like the World Bank and Asian Development Banks have also been omitted.

What does the Economic Census say about the structure of Nepali economy?
Economic activities and consumption are centred at the Kathmandu Valley and Terai region. Nepal has uneven distribution of economic activities and labour force absorption rate is low. The distribution of business/industries and human resource is alike in the hills and mountains which is the result of poor industrial mix. The Census found that half of the 923,356 economic units of are not registered while more than half of them are trade businesses like retail and maintenance centres. Trade covers about 54 per cent of the economic activities but involves only 30.6 per cent workforce.
About 30 per cent managers are women which means Nepal’s business are becoming inclusive. 34 per cent entrepreneurs are between the age of 25 – 40 years. Especially arts, entertainment and information technology are the sectors that have more young managers. Similarly, Province alone has 31 per cent economic activities.
Our economy is largely informal and there is a challenge to make it formal. Connectivity and development have also not affected the labour engagement. Province 2 has lowest women engagement in business. Likewise, the access to loan is poor since only 36 per cent entrepreneurs have obtained loan and only 18 per cent have access to the credit facility of the banks and financial institutions.

Have you started the preparation for the upcoming National Census 2021?
We have already begun the preparation and the draft of questionnaire, the main instrument of date collection, is prepared and feedback is being asked from the stakeholders. Provincial level workshops have been organised in all seven provinces. Such workshops have also been organised in selected municipalities and rural municipalities. We have overwhelmed with the feedback and recommendations received. The project document of the census has also been prepared with the technical support from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). The document includes the action plan and the support expected from the key development partners.
Apart from development planning, census is important for the creation of election constituency and devising inclusion policies. Therefore, it’s a P1 project.

Will the upcoming census be different from the previous ones in terms of style or technology?
We are using tablets in the survey as far as possible. About 50,000 surveyors will be mobilised in the field so all of them won’t use tablets. Use of tablet will make the data entry and calculation faster. The CBS is also studying the best practices of the past census and identifying the things that were missed. We are consulting with former director generals of the CBS. The census will create the statistical base of all 753 local units. This is the most important thing for us.

You have long been saying that the CBS should be a clearing agency in terms of public research and statistics. When would you start acting as a clearing agency?
Yes, there was a proposal to make it a data clearing agency. It was conceptualised in the Statistical Act which will be presented at the Parliament soon. The concept is to get the approval from the CBS for any kind of data collection or survey work in order to make it authentic. Government and non-government organisations should get approval from the CBS for the surveys. But the government agencies that have legal provisions to conduct certain studies need not to come to the CBS for the approval. Surveys might differ in their results even though they apply same sample and methods which might crate confusion and conflict. We want to use the clearing as the remedy to it.

Better statistics is instrumental for development planning and budget allocation, but people still doubt the reliability of government statistics. What is your take on it?
I don’t think there is a problem with the government statistics. However, we must explain the methodology and limitations of the study and interpret the results in a scientific manner, and it should be well communicated to the people.

The Nepal Rastra Bank estimates the inflation rates and conducts the survey for the results which is conflict of interest. Why doesn’t the CBS take the responsibility of the survey and fact checking?
It’s the conflict of interest and we are in discussion for that matter. The NRB is saying that the Consumer Price Index (CPI) or inflation should be measured by the CBS. This is its responsibility as well. But, the organisational structure of the CBS should be revised since the current structure does not have facility to survey the market on a monthly basis and the CPI is measured every month. There might be some kind of integration between the NRB and CBS.

Will the CBS continue the surveys on Information Technology, communication, cinema and music companies in the future?
They were the cross-sectional studies conducted to create the base year of the national accounts. They will be replicated in the future.

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