New rules to punish "statistical fouls" took effect Friday in China.
The rules, the country's first of their kind, were jointly published by the Ministry of Supervision, Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS).
The rules impose penalties for publication of fraudulent statistics or unauthorized dissemination of statistical data.
Penalties including dismissal, demotion or unspecified "criminal punishment" face those who unlawfully alter statistics or ask others to do so and those who take revenge on people who refuse to fabricate data or blow the whistle on illegal acts.
People who leak data concerning state secrets, personal information or business secrets, or who delay the reporting of statistics, would face similar penalties.
The new rules require government offices to carefully maintain and deliver files of criminal cases and quickly release investigation results.
Analysts said statistics are not just key data for the government, they are also vital in making decisions about social and economic affairs.
Statistics "concern public credibility of both statistical authorities and the government," said Fan Jianping, chief economist with the State Information Center.
As the world's fastest expanding economy, China has faced questions about the accuracy of its national economic data. The most recent figure drawing global attention was the decade-low, 6.1 percent year-on-year economic growth rate in the first quarter, which was released April 16.
Since the country's opening-up, the quality of statistics has improved. An article on the Wall Street Journal China's website said China's economic statistics were actually very impressive, "with relatively timely, accurate, and comprehensive data published on a range of key indicators".
But it also pointed out that there is a political economy of numbers with an incentive at both the local and national levels to massage the statistics. Many China watchers have noted the incentives for local officials to over-report growth to please their political masters.
Officials who participated in drafting the new rules admitted that incorrect or falsified statistics have been released at times.
Statistical corruption has been found in China for years to exaggerate local economic growth, which is often related to officials' promotion.
In April, southeastern Fujian Province said that it handled 754cases concerning forged statistics last year and imposed fines up to about 1.38 million yuan (203,000 U.S. dollars).
"As the country strives to cushion the impact of the global slowdown and maintain steady economic growth, they should use the rules as a deterrent to statistical fouls," said Wang Tongsan, an economist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a government think tank.
Wang also suggested the government should reform the evaluation system for officials and increase training for statistical staff.
China's top statistics official, Ma Jiantang, has vowed to improve the quality and credibility of government statistics after foreign media voiced concerns about the authenticity of Chinese economic data.
"To keep (official statistics) true and credible is not only our duty, it also relates to our need to accept public supervision," Ma said in a statement on the NBS website.
(Xinhua News Agency May 2, 2009)