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UNECE publishes guidance to strengthen independence and legal protection of national statistical systems

Published: 24 June 2019

Official statistics are an indispensable element of the information system of democratic societies, serving governments, economies and the public with data that can help them understand and make decisions about the economy, the population, society and the environment. An essential precondition for carrying out this task is a strong legal and institutional setting for statistical systems, so that their independence, integrity and accountability are guaranteed and statistical quality and data security are assured, as enshrined in the Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.

With this in mind, UNECE has today published new Guidance on Modernizing Statistical Legislation, a tool to help countries design or improve their statistical laws and the legal frameworks that support their statistical systems. The 2016 Generic Law on Official Statistics, developed for countries of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and Central Asia, was so highly welcomed that UNECE countries called for this new Guidance to be aimed at all 56 countries of the region – which covers the entire Pan-European region and North America.

The new Guidance is already being applied to improve existing statistical laws in Chile, Malta, Norway, Rwanda, Slovakia and Switzerland.

The Guidance sets out the common elements of statistical legislation, explaining the purpose of each one and how it benefits society. For example, legal stipulations about the role, appointment and termination of chief statisticians are essential to safeguard this crucial position from political interference. Legally-protected professional independence of chief statisticians allows them to produce and publish accurate information without fear of political reprisals, and to point out and correct errors of interpretation or misuses of statistics. Without such protection, a chief statistician might come under pressure—explicit or implied—to suppress or downplay statistics that shine a negative light on the current government, such as poor economic progress, human rights issues or development shortcomings, or unpopular policy outcomes and social trends.

Modern statistical legislation, according to the new Guidance, should also include definitions of what is to be classified as official statistics, and which producers of statistics are to be considered part of the official statistical system. This ensures the transparency of the processes used to determine what qualifies for the coveted label ‘official’, in a world where huge amounts of data are gathered and published.

Change can be difficult, and reforms are often met with resistance. The Guidance therefore offers advice for change management during the process of modernizing statistical legislation, such as recommendations for advocacy, stakeholder consultation and strategy development.

About the Conference of European Statisticians

This Guidance, developed by a Task force under the Conference of European Statisticians (CES), is released as the Conference prepares to meet for its 67th annual plenary session in Paris later this week (26-28 June).

UNECE works closely with more than 60 countries through the Conference of European Statisticians, established in 1953.

CES gathers the heads of the national statistical offices of UNECE member States, OECD member countries and international organizations including OECD, Eurostat, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank, CIS-Stat, EFTA, the European Central Bank, and a variety of UN agencies.  Other countries also contribute to the work of CES, including Brazil, China, Colombia, Mongolia, the Philippines and South Africa).

Cooperation under CES guides international statistical work in the region, helping countries to align their priorities, identify new and shared challenges, and work together to address them. 


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