Fudging reality

People in the know have long been aware of the failure of the National Statistics Service (ESYE) to live up to its mission. This failure has become obvious outside Greece, as regular EUROSTAT figures on the 15 EU member states do not include up-to-date data about Greece. The most recent example was Greece’s release of unemployment figures in the second quarter of 2001 when other European countries could provide figures for the entire year. Tardy publication of data for all economic indices has become the norm, and this is undermining the image of our country. Unfortunately, there is more to it than this. During ESYE’s administration under Nikos Karavitis, the credibility of the body was seriously tarnished. Some time ago, he made the headlines after revelations that he had arbitrarily presented, as official data, conclusions drawn from the processing of a small part of the existing material. Although that case triggered political reaction, Karavitis remained in his post, thus confirming the widespread impression that national economy ministers have a high regard for a wizard of creative accounting. There is no doubt that this is a time where impressions play an essential role and governments are easily tempted to fudge indices and promote an idealized picture of reality. Unfortunately, the Bank of Greece, which ought to be above political objectives, has displayed an unacceptable degree of tolerance. In any case, however, what goes around, comes around. There is a heavy price to be paid for these short-term gains. Today, both inside the country and EU bodies, ESYE data are regarded with deep reservation. This is certainly something which has to stop. But how can the service convince the public that it no longer succumbs to the temptation of creative accounting, and how can it restore its credibility when the person who is responsible for fudging the economic figures remains in his post? Despite all this, ESYE continues to delay announcing figures, making the introduction of measures by the national economy minister imperative. Finally, the timely and precise report of economic reality through statistical indices is one of the necessary tools in mapping out policy and, of course, for carrying out the structural changes due.

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