Data/Reporting Corruption - one of the problems
to be tackled in the Tigrai Administration
Data is used as one of the vital inputs in solving problems in a wide variety of fields including: economic, social, political, ecological, scientific and other areas. Reliable and timely data/reporting helps keep a government accountable to its citizens by exposing fraudulent or wasteful activities in the different organizational units it regulates.
When I say data corruption, I don’t only mean to the technical problem that occurs during the collection, coding, encoding, compilation, storage, transmission and/or processing of data which leads to unintended change to the original data. Here, I’m trying to refer to the wider problems associated with the policies and procedures of data collection, analysis and reporting.
Data/reporting corruption may emanate from two sources: due to lack of the required technical skills, resources and policies and systems and/or due to deliberate manipulation of data/report to serve vested interests of individuals, groups and organizations.
In the fields of Statistics and Computational Sciences there is a saying “GIGO” to mean “Garbage In Garbage Out”; that is when the input data is garbage, the outcome of the processed data will be garbage. Thus, distorted development related data which leads to distorted reports could have negative socio-economic and socio-political implications.
Nowadays, it has become customary to hear development related reportages through both of the Print and Electronic Medias; which seems to be highly exaggerated. In the different media outlets, it is usual to hear reports such as:
“…potable water supply coverage of wereda x has reached 80%...”
“…access to basic health services of wereda y has reached 90%...”
“…elementary school gross enrolment rate of wereda z has reached 100%...” , and so on.
Here, readers need to understand that I don’t mean such figures are not attainable in some weredas. However, there are a number of questions to be raised including, but not limited to the following:
1. Is the regional administration in general and the wereda administrative bodies in particular using consistent and internationally accepted standard terms and definitions in measuring development indicators such as the ones mentioned above?.
2. What methods of data collection are being used at regional, zonal, werea, tabia, kushet and household levels in setting development yardsticks and in measuring those yardsticks over time and how scientific those methods are?
3. Who is responsible for the collection, coding, encoding, compilation, analysis, interpretation and the reporting of development related data at different levels of the regional administration?. And how competent and free of bias is this body in handling the data management process?
4. What verification mechanisms are in place to cross-check the reliability of the raw data and the final reports?
I will try to substantiate the above concerns by providing the following few and general examples:
For instance, hand-dug-wells/ boreholes, constructed last year; and their contribution to the respective wereda’s potable water supply coverage of which is already accounted during that year might have dried-up or become non-operational during this year. However, I don’t think there is a dynamic system in place which instantly adjusts the wereda’s potable water supply coverage accordingly.
Some weredas have significant number of health institutions (health posts and clinics); which are ill-equipped of the basic medical tools and equipment and without the required drugs and medical personnel. Such health institutions cannot render the required basic services. However, the wereda level average distance travelled to such institutions is used in measuring the wereda’s access to basic health services; which could be misleading (as this indicator takes into account of only the availability of the physical infrastructures; and not the intended services).
Similarly, there are elementary schools in which shades (without the basic school furniture and which are not conducive for teaching-learning process) are being used as classrooms. However, elementary school gross enrolment rate takes into account of only the number of children attending in elementary education irrespective of the fulfillment of the basic school infrastructures. Some readers may argue that school furnishing is mainly related to quality of education, and not to enrolment. The question here is will it not be misleading to use such an indicator (elementary school gross enrolment rate); which includes the number of elementary school students who don’t have access to the basic school infrastructure and the ones pursuing their elementary education in a relatively well furnished school together to be used as an indicator?. I think this indicator on educational achievement needs to be further qualified taking into account of such differences.
These are some examples of the problems which could be related with technical aspects of data/reporting corruption. However, the deliberate distortion of data/reports by experts and officials at different levels of the administration will be much more damaging.
Thus, besides to other viable measures, I suggest the following additional remedial actions which I think could mitigate the problems:
1. First and foremost, the regional administration should have to admit the prevalence of data/reporting corruption. Specially, the top regional leadership needs to be critical of each and every report coming from the executive organs of the regional administration supported by professional reviews from multidisciplinary professional advisors. Moreover, a strong check and balance system needs to be in place to critically monitor and evaluate the performances of the legislative, executive and the legal organs of the region.
2. The need to establish a well-structured (regional to wereda level), well equipped, well-staffed and strong professional institution say “Regional Statistical Authority”. I’m proposing it to be an Authority which could be accountable to the Regional President/Council with free access to all of the regional government bodies’ data/reports; and with the responsibility to develop data collection, analysis and reporting policies and procedures, an institution with the responsibility to define, establish and measure development yardsticks, to undertake pertinent regional data collection, coding, encoding, compilation, storage, transmission, processing and reporting and with the responsibility to perform other related functions. This institution needs to closely work with all the different development actors in the region (health, education, agriculture…..). Moreover, this institution could also serve as an interface with the data collection, analysis and reporting activities to be launched by the Federal Statistical Agency. This doesn’t mean that this institution is to take care of all the data requirements of the different regional sectors; as each sector will be responsible to collect, analyze and report its specific data for its planning and day-to-day decision making requirements. Moreover, very specialized and highly technical studies beyond the capacities of this institution could be contracted out to external professional institutions.
3. The need to enhance the regional press freedom, and to build the capabilities of the regional media which encompasses human, scientific, technological, organizational and institutional resources and capabilities. The human capacity building component could include the education and training of the individual communication professional so that he/she will be able to develop the required knowledge, skills and competencies on how to access and use vital data for reporting. The institutional capacity building aspect could focus on developing and fostering a viable media environment for the people; while the infrastructure capacity building could be related to the hardware, software and other technology required by the media.
Specially, there is a need for the introduction and strengthening of an investigative journalism without further delay. The investigative journalism could serve as one tool and arm of the regional administration in fighting not only data/reporting corruption, but also other forms of corruption, nepotism and maladministration in the economic, social, political and legal spheres.
September 7, 2015