With modified or even false statistics being a persistent scourge, the revised law on statistics adopted by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress at the weekend was expected to have tougher penalties against the rampant practices of keeping back, cooking up and forging statistics.
However, the new measures are far from being severe enough to suppress the urge of local government leaders to pressure their statistics departments to produce figures in their favor.
The stipulations prohibit government departments or leaders from revising in their favor the figures collected by the statistics departments and statisticians. And, it is notified as a serious violation of the law for leaders to force statisticians or the statistics departments to modify data.
Actually, it is not important for the revised law to have such specific stipulations. Government leaders at any level would be aware of what they are doing when they cook up statistics for their own benefit. They certainly need no reminders of the necessity to eschew false accounts of their work. What they are made to pay for such lies could have made a difference.
Therefore, it is a pity that in the revised law, the penalties are not enough to deter violations. The provisions only state that any one found to have counterfeited statistical figures or pressured statisticians or the statistical department to do so will be disciplined by higher authorities or supervisory department according to the relevant regulations. In addition, statistical departments above county level will notify their violations.
There is hardly any reason for people to believe that being criticized in a public notification would be punishment compelling enough to deter an offender from violating the law again.
In 2008 alone, 17,300 cases involving statistical violations were investigated. More than 60 percent of these cases involved concealing unfavorable figures, cooking up favorable ones, forging figures and revising statistical data in their favor.
Another investigation shows that only some officials under the rank of county magistrate have ever been disciplined for offenses of messing about with statistical data in the 26 years since the law on statistics took effect in 1983.
Many more officials must have got promotions or rewards in cash by pleasing their superiors with forged statistics. Intentionally providing false statistical data for getting promotions or other benefits is no doubt a type of corruption.
The gap between what people feel in reality and the false statistics will, in the long run, erode the credibility of the government. What is even worse is that statistics form an important basis of the considerations for making policy. Will policies based on false statistics ever succeed?
Therefore, harsher penalties may succeed in preventing statistical jugglery - to deter those who do it, be it for personal benefit or any other reason. Otherwise, both the basis and outcome of public policy will be subverted.