Sri Lanka Statistics Office to sack official for data manipulation claim

Sri Lanka Statistics Office

(Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s state-run Statistics Office said on Wednesday it will sack one of its top officials for disobedience and leaking internal information after he said that economic growth data compiled by the office was inflated last year.

Opposition legislators have criticised President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, saying it has long overstated growth estimates and given unrealistic inflation figures aiming to get lower rates on foreign loans and attracting foreign investors.

H.S. Wanasinghe, the former acting director at the National Accounts Department, had stated the Statistics Office revised up 2013 first quarter year-on-year economic growth figure to 6 percent from his originally computed 5.4 percent.

An internal statement by Wanasinghe had said the growth figure was increased to 6 percent in his absence just before the official release.

D.C.A. Gunawardena, the director general at the Statistics Office, rejected the allegation over data manipulation and said the upward revision was due to some “inconsistent” data.

“We’ve conducted an inquiry on the … disobedient and leaking of internal information. The inquiries are over and I’ve … recommended the public service commission sack him,” Gunawardena told reporters. “It will be done soon.”

J.C Weliamuna, the head of Transparency International’s local branch, said Wanasinghe had a duty to tell if there was manipulation.

“What the government should do is to correct the errors instead of victimising him,” he said.

The Ceylon Chamber of Commerce, Sri Lanka’s main business group, has urged the authorities to investigate the data manipulation allegation in a credible and transparent manner.

The IMF, in its May report, said Sri Lanka’s national accounts “suffer from insufficient data sources and undeveloped statistical techniques” and the method for deriving gross domestic product at constant prices was “not satisfactory”.

On Tuesday, the central bank said allegations of data manipulation by the authorities were “unfounded and baseless” and the recommendations of the IMF had been distorted.

Official figures show Sri Lanka’s economic growth has been more than 6.3 percent every year since 2009. The central bank said the economy expanded 7.2 percent in 2013 to $67 billion and estimated this year’s growth at 7.8 percent.