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Ideas & Debate

EDITORIAL: Apply data alteration law with a lot of care

The State must address the public fears that
The State must address the public fears that come with the new law and win the confidence of public. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

The new law granting the Cabinet powers to cancel or alter data collected by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) is sensitive and should be implemented cautiously and then only in national interest.

The amended law, which President Uhuru Kenyatta signed on August 14, allows the Cabinet Secretary for Planning to revise or annul the results of official data that includes census, economic growth data and monthly inflation data.

This law deeply touches on the sensitive question of resource distribution and political representation and caution must be exercised to avoid actions that could trigger chaos among interest groups.

While proponents argued it is only purposed to correct errors, it will no doubt generate suspicions from sections of the public and the political class, especially if it is seen to be applied selectively or prejudicially.

With the devolved systems of governance, numbers have become a sensitive issue in this country because counties now handle key functions like healthcare, agriculture and water that require equitable allocation.

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Allocation and distribution of resources to the devolved units are closely scrutinised because of the direct impact on the wealth and growth of counties.

There is also the expectation that the newly-collected census data could influence the revision of certain political representation boundaries in future.

The State must, therefore, address the public fears that come with the new law and win the confidence of public.

The most logical way to do this would be to ensure that the data gathered by the KNBS is accurate and credible. This would remove the need for alteration or annulment of data by the Cabinet.

Focus should be on empowering the statistics agency to bolster its data collection and analysis capacity. This would mean better staffing and acquisition of modern data collection equipment and techniques that would guarantee accuracy.

Apart from focusing on credibility and accuracy of data, the State must maintain open communication on sensitive statistics that directly touch on the allocation and distribution of public resources.

Public disclosure of statistical data would help address any suspicions of manipulation by the State. The public should stay informed about all data gathering exercises as well as the outcomes.

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