Coronavirus has brought the world to its knees, with its effects transmitting across all tiers in the economy. Not only has it caused disruptions to economic activities of various actors in the economy (households, businesses, government), but it has also disrupted the flow of economic data amongst these agents in Solomon Islands, and I’m sure elsewhere as well—at least in the Pacific Island Countries (PICs). For policy making institutions and businesses alike, reliable and timely data becomes more crucial for making informed policy decisions and for deciding or resolving investment plans of firms, especially during these unprecedented times. The small island open economies in the Pacific, amidst the challenges of climate change, remoteness and vulnerabilities, the advent of COVID-19 has further exacerbated the challenges of collecting and sharing accurate, timely and relevant economic data as in the case of Solomon Islands.
Prior to COVID-19, gathering and compiling economic data has been a hurdle and burdensome for authorized data-providing agencies in the Solomon Islands. This comes on the back of already stretched resources (human capacity, funding and infrastructure) coupled with the lack of political commitment to adequately resource national institutions responsible for collection and dissemination of economic data. Furthermore, the outbreak of COVID-19 and the containment measures implemented by Solomon Islands Governments to prevent its spread—namely, the scale down of the government’s workforce to skeleton staff and social distancing, among others—have, to some extent, hampered the regular flow of economic data between data providers and data users.
Evidently, firms tend to switch onto core-business activity mode by mobilising resources to maintain sales and keep profits afloat or even downgrading their operations. As a result, this has led to delays in data submission or non-response from data providers, causing data-dependant policy institutions to generate estimations based on partial information. Recognising the disruptions to data flow by the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has produced guidance notes offering recommendations and best practice to ensure continuity of key statistics.
Building on Deputy Governor Raynold Moveni’s article on information sharing among Pacific Central Banks, equally important for policymakers and firms is the timely collection, processing and sharing of accurate economic data. Without economic data, policymakers cannot assess and evaluate the extent of crisis on the economy nor formulate proper monitoring and recovery interventions. Likewise, if firms do not provide data, then policymakers are unable to gauge the performance of the economy. In return, firms would not be able to generate accurate business investment plans and revenue forecasts for their business operations or to assess their competitive advantage over their competitors. Similarly, without access to reliable economic data, our research activities—a core element of our South Pacific Centre for Central Banking (SPCCB)—will be curtailed.
The lack of quality data hinders efforts to track progress of policy actions and investments. For example, the launching of the Solomon Islands Government economic Stimulus package of SBD 309 million (USD 37.6 million) in response to the COVID-19, already begs the question of how effective these policy interventions will be in the absence of reliable economic data? How do we know that the investments that are being committed to national priorities are bringing meaningful impact to 85 per cent of the population that live in rural areas? With the SBD 70 million (USD 8.5 million) pumped into the agriculture sector, how does one differentiate between the farmers most in need amongst a sea of applicants? Alternatively, how does one measure the multiplier effect of such an injection? Given these existing data gaps, the effectiveness of such policy interventions may be unknown or not fully realised, possibly leading to wasteful allocation of resources.
Collective efforts are required from both data providers and data users to ensure the consistent flow of economic data during these unprecedented times. According to the IMF, there is a need to explore innovative data collection methods and data sources in light of disruptions caused by COVID-19. For the Solomon Islands, this could be high time to modernise data collection processes to streamline data collection efforts through gradual migration of technology to speed up the data collection processes. Perhaps this could be an area where our bilateral and multilateral development partners—Asian Development Bank, World Bank, International Monetary Fund—mobilise resources to assist and equip national agencies with appropriate technology and infrastructure? Essentially, capacity building and training of Solomon Islanders is critical to ensure the continuity of compilation and dissemination of key statistics for real time monitoring of our economy—especially in times of crisis. This could be an opportunity for our multilateral partners to provide remote training and remote mission for our Solomon staff. Strengthening collaborations and peer learning amongst data providers and data users is beneficial for forging partnerships between the private and public sector by ensuring the continuity and ease of data sharing during this uncertain crisis. Perhaps, it is also about time that everyone (both the data providers and users), especially the government, sees the importance of data and regard it as a resource, and start investing and resourcing agencies such as the national statistics office/bureau.
It is rational to conjure that collecting and sharing of accurate and timely economic data is what we policymakers (government and central bankers) and businesses need in these extraordinary times. This will enable policymakers to devise sound policy prescriptions for the economy and to effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. We all have a part to play in this, we may need to go an extra mile in our data collection efforts and sharing of data widely for our decision-making processes. As alluded to earlier in this article, collecting timely and accurate data is a win-win for firms, government and data collecting agencies. More so, it is crucial during this great economic shutdown. I’d very much like to learn about the experiences of fellow PIC central bankers on this issue, perhaps, via Pacific Forum.
Ms Angeline Bata’anisia is a Research Analyst in the Economics Research Statistics Department, Central Bank of Solomon Islands. The views expressed in this article are her own and do not necessarily represent the position of the Central Bank of Solomon Islands.
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