Rosstat Can’t be Trusted Until It Becomes Independent, ‘Nezavisimaya gazeta’ Says

File Photo of Kremlin Tower, St. Basil's, Red Square at Night

(Paul Goble – Window on Eurasia – Staunton, February 8, 2019)

People have long distrusted statistics – Mark Twain’s observation that “there are lies, damned lies, and then statistics’ is a commonplace – but over the last two years and especially over the last two weeks, Russians have come no longer to believe them at all if they are issued by the state’s statistical arm, Rosstat, Nezavisimaya gazeta says.

Like the Soviet regime before it, the editors say in a lead article, the Russian government has helped to create this problem, often putting out falsified information to make themselves look good and, most recently, putting Rosstat directly under the economic development ministry, which has clear interests in falsification (ng.ru/editorial/2019-02-07/2_7502_red.html).

Vladimir Putin’s April 2017 decision to put it there rather than directly under the prime minister as it had been is often cited in the expert community as creating the kind of conflict of interest that guarantees problems: it means that the ministry responsible for growth controls the agency that tells the world whether there has been any.

The situation got worse, the editors say, when Rosstat’s longtime head, Aleksandr Surinov, was replaced in December by a young technocrat, Pavel Malkov, who came from the ranks of that ministry. To no one’s surprise, the new man reported growth that the older experts had not seen – and thereby killed any reason to believe Rosstat ever again.

“The restoration of trust requires public control over Rosstat’s work,” Nezavisimaya gazeta says. Handing it back to the prime minister’s office is not enough. A better approach could be to make it an independent agency like the Accounting Chamber. Other countries work hard to keep their statisticians honest and credible; Russia should do no less.

[Article also appeared at windowoneurasia2.blogspot.com/2019/02/rosstat-cant-be-trusted-until-it.html]