By Milagros Gimenez and Gustavo Paniz
One of the aspects that most struck us as Latin American students while reading for our Master of Public Management at the University of Birmingham was the importance of having access to reliable data for making public policies. Current trends in public administration and the Evidence-Based Policy movement posit that the most efficient way to produce and increase the quality of public values is through the rigorous and comprehensive use of “scientific evidence” (Head, 2017, p. 77).
Throughout our interaction in class with colleagues from diverse nationalities and backgrounds, we noticed that unlike other countries, a common characteristic of public administration in Argentina and Venezuela is the absence of reliable information regarding key economic and social indicators. During our dissertation research, we identified that this situation was not only due to a lack of technical or professional capacity but due to a deliberate intention of the ruling elites to hide and manipulate information in order to create narratives that support their political and economic interests.
In Argentina during 2007-2015, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner’s government is said to have manipulated official statistics such as inflation and growth rates and directly stopped measuring poverty rates to hide the country’s serious social crisis (Economist, 2016; Lanacion.com, 2016). In Venezuela, the government stopped publishing the main macroeconomic indicators for four years to hide a hyperinflationary spiral that exceeded 1,000,000% in 2018 (Casey, 2018) reaching inflation rates similar to Germany in 1923 or Zimbabwe in 2000.
It is undeniable that distorting social and macroeconomic indicators causes irreparable damage to society because of the direct impact of indicators on public services. Without data it is impossible to properly target the coverage of services, the frequency of provision and ensure quality of service, for example. Thus, hindering the possibility of learning from practice, being accountable for performance and being able to research how to improve the services. The lack of data might provide insight and contribute to why countries such as Argentina and Venezuela rank among the most unequal countries in the world (worldbank, 2019). This inequality means in practice very few people have access to high-quality public service provision and most of the country experience insufficient access to basic public services. For example, in the author’s experience in their Argentinian home town, having stable electricity is the exception during the summer (where average temperatures reach 34°-40°C), and power outages and water supply cuts are normal. As there is no access to public data to report and then monitor this type of situation, holding people to account for these issues remains difficult and the situation continues.
As it was explained, public statistics with reliable information are the starting point to address any wicked issue (poverty and inequality being two important ones). Restoring the system of statistical indicators is not a simple task but it certainly needs political will combined with technical capacity and organized civil society playing an active role in the supervision and control of the political system.
The views in this blog are those of the authors and not those of INLOGOV or the University of Birmingham.