Last week this paper reported that under the newly amended Statistics Act 2019, the Cabinet now has the power to cancel, revise and adjust population and economic census data collected by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS).
The amended clause reads that upon request by the Board, the Cabinet Secretary may with the approval of the Cabinet, cause any official statistical data collected, analysed and disseminated by the bureau to be cancelled, revised or adjusted after ascertaining that the data is not accurate.
The director-general of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics has defended the amendment, saying it gives the bureau a wider leeway within a legal framework to ensure accurate statistics. There is some truth there, but the amendment leaves a bad taste.
First, there is no problem giving the Cabinet powers to cancel data collected by the bureau, but specifically census data only. In the 2009 census, certain areas in Northern Kenya were observed to have been over-enumerated, leading to the cancellation of their results.
The cancellation of the results led to a legal debate on whether the then Minister of Planning Wycliffe Oparanya had the powers to cancel the results. So, the new amendment to the Statistics Act targets to cure this lacuna in law.
The issue with the amendment is giving the Cabinet powers to alter the census results.
Census is a huge civic engagement where people proclaim that they are residents and by virtue of the Constitution they ensure they are fairly represented in political offices and resource allocation.
Therefore, a faulty census data would mean misallocation of government funds for the entire next decade.
So, to cure the bias of political correctness in resource allocation, the operations of the KNBS ought to remain independent.
But we have roped in political actors, the Cabinet, into the handling of census data compromising public confidence not only in the census data but the operations of KNBS.
The amended law should have given the director-general of KNBS powers to revise and adjust the census data because their revision is an adjustment that builds public confidence.
It is the KNBS that is aware of the potential errors and are continuously evaluating the quality of information; therefore, they can easily identify misnomers in the census data by conducting a post-enumeration survey to quality of information.
Second, the most vital defect in that amended law is giving the Cabinet the power to vary or cancel not only census data but also economic growth data and monthly inflation numbers.
Economic growth numbers are important because they measure the short-term changes and are used to monitor activity and assess effectiveness of policies.
Businesses also use economic growth data to locate potential markets, analyse own production and sales performance relative to industry or area averages and general decision-making.
So, the sanctity of economic growth numbers is fundamentally important for any ambitious economy.
It is understandable that due to the political nature of census data it would be in order to give the cancellation powers to the Cabinet who are able to deal with the political ramifications.
What is the political nature of economic growth data and monthly inflation numbers that the Cabinet should be involved in varying the collected data?
The only answer is that the government wants to be in a position to influence and control dissemination of economic growth numbers, something that does not augur well with evidence-based policy-making.
It is important that the government remain cognizant of the fact that data collected by the statistics agency is the backbone of government and private sector in decision-making.
Therefore, the sanctity of that data should be beyond reproach.