Statistical institutes provide vital factual information that is the key element in social and economic development and necessary for achieving evidence-based policy making, , says Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat) President Birol Aydemir
You once said: “Statistics need to be endorsed as the natural resources of development, and a well-functioning statistical system as a base of good governance.” So how important has Turkstat been to the rapid development of Turkey since 2002?
Without reliable, accurate and timely statistics, it is almost impossible to make and implement sound decisions and govern society effectively. Statistics enable evidence-based policy measures and are very important for decision-making and the implementation process so you can monitor whether or not you are obtaining the results you want.
We can talk about the functions of statistics later, but I also want to add that statistics are very important for good governance, transparency and accountability in public administration. Statistics as a discipline is closely related to democracy, and transparency and accountability are important for democracy and development. There is a close relationship between these two terms.
In respect of Turkey, The Turkish Statistical Institute was reformed in the year 2005, when we adopted a new statistical law that is fully compliant with the EU´s statistical systems. This new law has not only reformed the Turkish Statistical Institute, but also regulated the whole statistics system throughout Turkey.
One of the most important contributions is that it incorporates the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics of the UN and the Code of Practice of the EU, which are the quality criteria of statistics. We adopted 15 principles from the EU Code of Practice and we have fully implemented them. One of the most important elements of this is professional independence. Professional independence is very important for statistical offices. In this new law, number 5429, there are really strict regulations about professional independence and there are strict directives as to this institution’s independence. When we work on statistics, we cannot act upon any directives from any other institutions, individuals or ministries.
As a second phase of this independence issue, the Council of Ministers has assigned a President for this institution. Unless he resigns, nobody can remove him from his post.
What do you feel Turkstat can contribute in furthering the development of Turkey going forward?
As I said earlier, there are three important things: accuracy, reliability and timely data. This is important not just for economic development, but also for social development. We, as the Turkish Statistical Institute, contribute with information. This data that we present is very important and most of it has been produced in a very timely manner. Regarding economic statistics, we provide business statistics and inflation data, for example, which are widely used at present in Turkey. We are a country that releases inflation data earlier than any other European country in compliance with EU Standards. This data impacts on wages, contracts and decisions of the government. All of this data is compatible with EU standards.
We also provide very accurate, reliable and important information about the labour force. Labour force data is important for determining the development of the country. Many international organizations like the International Labour Organization (ILO) and World Bank trust our data and use our statistics for their own new studies and researches as the pilot country. This case shows our data is reliable and international organizations trust us.
To what extent can we use your data to accurately predict the future growth prospects of the country?
Statistics institutions generally do not make estimations about the future. We use data about what happened in the past. Instead, we produce leading indicators in order to make estimations. So if you are an economist, you can make better estimates using our indicators or statistics.
What social benefits does Turkstat bring to Turkey?
The most important contribution of TurkStat to social development is poverty statistics. These statistics are fully compliant with EU standards. Moreover, employment data has positive economic and social implications. Since 2006, we have been implementing the Survey on Income and Living Conditions (SILC) in line with EU standards.
We also have a survey on life satisfaction. In this survey, we even measure the government's performance in areas such as education, justice, police, transportation and social security. We measure people's satisfaction – whether they are happy or not – with the government on these issues. This year, when we published the results in March, public satisfaction dropped around 3 points. In 2013, general satisfaction was around 59%. Now, it is 56%. As you see, we publish all statistics in an objective, professional and transparent manner. We are the only national statistics institute in the world publishing the results of both people’s life satisfaction and their satisfaction with public services in each province every 3 years. So if Ministries want to know what the people on the streets are thinking, they have to look at these statistics. This is very important.
Another area I also want to mention is the projection of the population. In 2007, we established an address based population register system to better measure the population. At the end of every year we publish the main population indicators. In 2013, we estimated the population until 2075. Until 2023, the estimated population is measured by the provinces. We know how many people may live in Istanbul in 2023, for example. This population projection is very important for the government and for the country. A lot of sectors such as education, social security, police and health can use these statistics. We provide all this information to ministries and local governments and they can create policies according to these projections.
How important are statistics in general – and Turkstat in particular – in informing G20 discussions and monitoring the results of G20 decisions?
Generally, for the G20 Summit, there is not much space for statistical institutions. We are helping with the coordination in Turkey and producing limited data. Besides the statistical institutions, G20 uses central banks and the Ministry of Finance for data. G20 usually works with more banking and financial data, but slowly, after some phases, G20 will use more economic and social data. This will increase the role of statistical institutions.
What is your final message on the value of statistics?
Statistics are really important, but in any country and in any international arena, what people say and what they do, do not usually match. There are some contradictions about how important statistics institutions are in the world. If statistics really contribute to the economic and social development and democracy, you can take any country you want, but to progress democratically, you need statistical data because you need information and statistics mean information. It does not matter which country you live in, you need statistics. They are knowledge. Lastly I can say that statistics is the key to understanding the past, governing today and planning the future.