If the public was asked which institution they trust the least, without a doubt the answer would be the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat). If they were then asked which of TurkStat’s data they find least reliable, it would be inflation. The public’s perception is that TurkStat calculates the inflation rate and when it turns out too high, it tweaks the numbers to make it appear lower. The same applies to the unemployment data. If it seems high, TurkStat lowers it and makes the fibbed figures public.
Let’s assume that this is the case, that TurkStat tampers with the data and manages to deceive international organizations, including Eurostat. And also, as if it’s the state’s intelligence agency, MIT, not TurkStat, none of the people involved in the production of the data leaks information about the tampering! What if TurkStat is not tampering with the data? What if there are flaws in the calculations that prevent them from reflecting the truth? Or a lack of disclosure and a failure to adequately address the public about this matter on TurkStat’s part? Could these be the underlying causes of the persistent suspicion against TurkStat?
NEW PRESIDENT, NEW INITIATIVES
Ahmet Kursat Dosdogru, who had been serving as Vice President for some time, was recently appointed as the interim President of TurkStat. Dosdogru stands out from others, considering that he started his career in TurkStat after graduating from the Middle East Technical University and has remained there ever since. Dosdogru, who knows the institution well, has advanced through the institution’s hierarchy from a specialist to its presidency.
Last month, there was a positive development in TurkStat: it set up advisory boards for price and unemployment statistics. Academics and representatives of non-governmental organizations were invited to take part in these advisory boards. The goal was to improve statistics, and along with it the public’s trust, by eliminating potential problems and to do so in collaboration with well-regarded figures in economics circles.
Together with the advisory boards, the appointment of a TurkStat insider to the presidency should be regarded as a continuation of TurkStat’s efforts of becoming a less secretive institution.
COMMENTS FROM PRESIDENT DOSDOGRU
I had a meeting with TurkStat’s newly-appointed president Dosdogru. As someone who spent all of his professional life in the institution, he is aware of the public’s opinion of it. “We have been planning on becoming more open for some time,” Dosdogru told me, adding that the pandemic has disrupted the process.
In reference to the advisory boards, Dosdogru said that they use internationally-accepted methodologies when dealing with the data. “If we tried to explain this on our own, those who are familiar with the subject would be convinced; others would be partially convinced; and some would not be convinced at all. That’s why we wanted to set up these advisory boards made up of academics and NGO representatives,” Dosdogru said.
“We are aware that people most often criticize inflation data. We did some research on the subject internally. Our department of methodology examined the CPI inflation with from an independent perspective and identified the areas that need improvement,” he said. The advisory board will be asked to conduct a similar review as well.
INTRODUCING: “MY INFLATION”
President Dosdogru also said that they could calculate price indices specific to Turkey other than the CPI, such as a cost-of-living index. He stated that the preparations have started to compile data sets that can be used in individual calculations of inflation within the scope of the CPI. With this application, which will be called “My Inflation,” anyone will be able to calculate inflation based on the items related to their own consumption. The application will be launched as soon as possible, Dosdogru promised.
EMPLOYMENT̞ GROWTH DISCREPANCY UNDER SCRUTINY
In our meeting, Dosdogru also mentioned that the discrepancy between employment and growth data caught their attention and that the issue will be further examined by the labor market advisory board. He stated that they will focus on the subject after the announcement of growth data for the last quarter of 2020 on March 1. Dosdogru stated that different units in the institution will present the data on the subject and underlined that several factors, such as the proliferation of e-commerce, the contraction in labor-intensive sectors and shopping mall closures may have played a role in the fact that growth is not reflected in employment.
TurkStat is considering to set up advisory boards in other areas soon, possibly for GDP and demographics for starters, according to Dosdogru.