Economic growth misleading: forum

‘ILLUSION’::The forum said while last year’s growth of 9.98 percent looked impressive, it came from a low base of comparison in 2009, when the economy shrank 2.5 percent

By Ko Shu-ling  /  Staff Reporter

Thu, Jan 13, 2011 - Page 3

Taiwan Brain Trust yesterday accused the government of manipulating economic figures to deceive the public, saying that the state of the nation’s economy was not as good as it claimed.

“The impressive numbers released by the government cannot hide the fact that Taiwan is still in a difficult economic situation,” former vice premier Wu Rong-i (吳榮義), who is chairman of the think tank, told an economic forum.

Referring to last year’s ostensibly impressive economic growth of 9.98 percent, Wu said it was important to keep in mind that this comes from a low comparison base the previous year, when the economy contracted by 2.5 percent.

Although the unemployment rate has dropped from a peak of 6.13 percent to 4.73 percent in November, this does not include an estimated 150,000 unemployed people who are not actively looking for a job, he said.

The administration also boasts that salary levels have increased, but 3.6 million workers still have a monthly salary of less than NT$30,000, Wu said.

Government officials say the nation’s finances are healthy, but they do not appear to be telling the truth, he said.

Last year, public debt — not including potential debt and short-term government deficits — represented 32.9 percent of GDP, he said.

“If you include then, Taiwan’s public debt has reached 147 percent [of GDP], which is not healthy at all,” he said.

Chen Jinji (陳錦稷), a research fellow at Taiwan Brain Trust, said the nation’s financial situation remained in dire straits, adding that the Control Yuan had reprimanded the Ministry of Finance for underestimating the magnitude of public debt and ordered better regulations on government budgets.

Every time the administration borrows money for special budgets, the amount is not included in calculating public debt, he said.

“The administration should tackle this deficit with courage and map out a medium and long-term policy to deal with it,” he said.

Taiwan Thinktank chairman Chen Po-chih (陳博志) said that while it was understandable that a government would massage numbers to create a sense of optimism, it was unforgivable for a government to set policies based on erroneous figures.

“Statistics do not lie, but a liar knows how to manipulate statistics,” he said. “I hope the administration will admit its mistakes and that the public will not fall into the trap set by the government.”

He said his calculations, which were based on official data, showed the administration had overestimated the national income by NT$1.14 trillion (US$39.18 billion) and that such growth was generated at the cost of debt and deficits.