New system marks start of data reform in China

Updated: 2012-02-19 08:03


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BEIJING - China's statistics authorities on Saturday officially launched a unified data collection system through which companies can send their data directly to the government's statistics center or authorized provincial branches.

Government officials and industrial analysts say it marks the start of a significant reform of economic data gathering in one of the world's fastest growing economies.

The new platform may help rectify public confidence in official data. Previously, company data would go through as many as four government levels before reaching the National Data Center or authorized provincial data centers.

The complicated system has been blamed for data mismatch and confusion, such as conflicting national GDP figures last year.

The country's total GDP for 2011 calculated from local figures exceeded the final figure released by the NBS by about 10 percent. Technical problems, such as double counting and using different raw data, were reportedly the cause of the mix up.

"We felt that the data was falsified somewhere, but we could not find out where exactly the data became erroneous because we could not obtain the original data provided by the companies," said Ma Jiantang, chief of the National Bureau of Statistics.

Starting Saturday, a total of 700,000 major enterprises, which contribute to about 80 percent of the country's GDP, will submit statistical sheets, which include production, income and spending statements, straight to the National Data Center or approved provincial branches via the Internet. The submissions will bypass local governments.

The enterprises range from industrial companies, wholesalers, retailing businesses, companies in the sectors of construction, lodging and dining as well as all the real estate companies.

Revolution of statistical work

Calling the platform a "great revolution" for statistical work, Ma said the new data collection system will lighten the burden on companies, ensure that the bureau obtains original, true and complete data in a timely manner, and provide a scientific basis for the country's macro control and economic management.

The platform will also improve the efficiency of data collection and boost data accuracy, Ma said adding that the new data collection system will help resolve data discrepancies.

Zheng Chaoyu, an economic management professor with the People's University of China, also said that company statistics will become more transparent and that inconsistency of data will be reduced.

Data authenticity

Prior to the launch of the platform, the NBS had carried out trials in 2010 and 2011 in some provinces and cities including Sichuan, Hubei, and Beijing.

The fundamentals of the platform include four projects: making an accurate and updated list of the companies' basic information, standardizing the data-writing sheet for the companies, unifying the statistics-collecting software, and building a safe network for data transmission on the Internet.

The NBS said Thursday that it has used technological innovation in the new data collection system to avoid distortion.

One of the technical means adopted is that the software platform will record any data modifications, which will help identify illogical changes.

The system has also been installed with a function to automatically check the logic of data validation, helping surveyed enterprises avoid errors when inputting data, according to the NBS.

Ma said that any institutions and individuals should not hinder enterprises from reporting statistics independently. Businesses have both the right and obligation to submit true and accurate information to the country's statistical authorities.

He said that institutions involved in the falsification or manipulation of data will face legal punishment as well as the risk of losing bank loans.

Further improvement needed

Cao Jianhai, an industrial economy researcher with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that although the new platform is likely to dispel statistical discrepancy, the 700,000 enterprises in the survey pool do not yet reflect the overall economy.

Cao said that there are still many other small and medium-sized companies as well as individual businesses which still need to be included in the platform so that the final data will better reflect the general picture.

After the platform achieves initial success, the NBS will expand it to cover all the companies in the country, Ma Jiantang said without providing a time frame.