Time to put crucial numbers on the table

Whatever their reputation, statistics are essential for businesses contemplating expansion plans, investors deciding where to put their money and governments weighing incentives to encourage development.

Whatever their reputation, statistics are essential for businesses contemplating expansion plans, investors deciding where to put their money and governments weighing incentives to encourage development. People need good information to make good decisions. "When it comes to investing, it's critical to have as broad a range of statistics as possible to paint as complete a picture as possible from the bottom up," said Ali Khan, a director at Arqaam Capital in Dubai.

"It's one thing to get management guidance from companies but it helps build up a picture of an economy to have statistics about the labour force, house prices, inflation and myriad macro-data." If all goes to plan, that picture should become clearer in the next few years. The Dubai Statistics Centre (DSC) wants to double the number of statistics it collects in the coming years, while the Statistics Centre Abu Dhabi (SCAD) plans to put out hundreds of new reports by 2014. SCAD released its 2010 yearbook yesterday, containing a broader set of figures about the emirate's economy, population, society and workforce than ever before.

Those developments are part of a series of steps the DSC and SCAD are taking to address a dearth of statistics that has irked analysts and economists for years. With few indicators to go by, apart from periodic releases of banking figures by the Central Bank and monthly inflation numbers from the Ministry of Economy, they had long complained that decisions were based more on educated guesswork than hard numbers.

"The statistics are meant to reflect the actual picture of the emirate," said Butti al Qubaisi, the director general of SCAD. "The process is continuously evolving. We aim to have 629 indicators by 2014 and this year alone we compiled 325 indicators. "Considering we began with 120 indicators, that is an achievement." SCAD, led by Mr al Qubaisi and the director of statistics Abu Baker al Amoudi, hailed the yearbook as evidence of a "qualitative shift in terms of data coverage, accuracy and presentation" that would help private-sector companies make plans and aid the Government in reaching long-term goals outlined in the Abu Dhabi Vision 2030.

The yearbook includes numbers on Abu Dhabi's foreign trade, GDP, consumer prices, government finances and wages. It also reveals the number of businesses registered in the emirate and the make-up of the population. Statistics on education, health, social welfare, crime and culture are also part of the report, which was compiled with the help of Peter Crossman, SCAD's assistant director general for technical affairs.

SCAD has made great strides since its founding two years ago, Mr Crossman said, and the plan now was to soldier on until regular releases of comprehensive economic and social data were the norm. "SCAD is a very new agency and what the emirate is doing here is creating a situation where an official statistical agency of the emirate will be getting up to a very modern and high-quality standard in a very short time," he said. "An enormous amount of work has been done, an enormous amount of work is under way and I believe we will see increasingly high quality statistics being published routinely by this agency. But to go from a start-up situation to a high-quality modern statistical agency is a very worthy challenge."

It is a challenge many market participants are glad SCAD is taking on, Mark Twain's admonishments aside. "It's the kind of thing everyone's going to welcome," Mr Khan said. afitch@thenational.ae

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