In an interview with Daily News Egypt, Major General Abu Bakr Al-Guindy, Director of the Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics (CAPMAS), talks about the agency’s role and the type of publications it issues as well the national system of statistics and its elements.
CAPMAS was established in 1964 according to law 2915/1964 under the direct supervision of the president. Al-Guindy has been CAPMAS Director since 2005.
Tell us about the population census.
We rely on the previous year’s data, which in this case is 2014; the number of births and deaths and then get the difference between them which is the natural increase in the population, then divide by 365 and by the day, hour, minute to calculate the rate, and we set the clock at the top of the building at this rate for the whole year.
Is the difference between the consecutive years significant?
In 2015, the rate of increase per day was 5,900, last year it was increasing at almost 5,700. This is catastrophic, there is excessive growth. The population growth rate has been increasing since 2005 until today. It is problematic because no matter how much resources are available, you will not be able to afford spending on all those people.
Is the state unaware of this?
The state is aware since it established a ministry for that purpose, and that is the most that can be done. The state is aware, but the question that follows is what has the state done after it had become aware of the problem. The Ministry of State for Population launched a strategy last November in the attendance of 12 ministers; and each ministry plays a role in this strategy. So the state is aware, but the society is not. If you ask any group of people whether the population is a blessing or a curse, you will find a debate, and as long as there is a debate, then we haven’t been able to identify the problem yet. The debate can happen when you have a population and the economic resources needed for spending. But the current situation is catastrophic because you have limited resources, so you do not have the luxury to ask this question.
Egypt’s population growth rate is 2.6% per year, while in advanced countries it is 0.6%, and in other developing countries like Egypt, it is 1.5%, so we’re double the rate of other developing countries. Our economy’s growth rate was at 2% in past years, and in order to maintain the standard of living, the economic growth rate should be three times the population growth rate. So when the latter exceeds the former, you have a problem. Dr Maged Osman had described it accurately by calling it “collective suicide”. Development is the only means by which we can amend the ailments of society and that would enable us spend on education, health, jobs, etc. The citizen must be aware of this issue. The 2006 inclusive statistics indicated that a family consisting of three persons suffers from a poverty rate of 0.7%, while a family of 10 or more suffers a poverty rate that reaches 68%, which is a powerful indication of how the family becomes poorer as it gets bigger. Most of the poor have big families and that is a worldwide trend.
A CAPMAS statement stated that two thirds of the Egyptian population is under 15 years – so this should be a positive thing?
75% are under 40 years, 68% are under 35 years, and almost 61% are under 30 years. This is a young/youthful, productive society that many nations envy and strive to achieve. Although there is a large percentage of youth, there are also a large number of virus C patients, and uneducated people. You will be shocked when you look outside of Egypt in other neighbouring countries that do not even have the resources that we have and find Egyptian labour working in underrated jobs. That is because the numbers of youth who cannot find jobs have increased and the state is unable to spend or provide the jobs needed.
But when you have such a large percentage of young people in your society, the state should play a role in this regard. Have we learned that the population is considered human capital?
The population is the pillar of the state. It is the most important natural resource. For example, Japan’s only resource is the population; they do not have oil or iron or even land, but there are productive, educated people who produce and innovate; making Japan’s economy globally significant. However, all this needs financing; in order to build schools and everything else.
In Egypt, there are places where it is difficult to find a piece of land to build a school, like in the Nile Delta region, due to the increased population. We conducted a recent study which indicated that 50% of those who have gone through five years of education are unable to write their names. You need to put control on the population, until development is achieved and the economy flourishes. In this year’s budget, the spending on education and health is incomparable to the spending on subsidies. Almost two thirds of the subsidy goes to those who do not deserve it. There is an imbalance, but at the same time you are unable to remove the subsidy when there are many people who need it. For example, when it comes to petroleum products, what happened in July 2014 was a very positive development; you saved almost 40 billion which were directed instead to health and education. The system was premised on an illogical basis which is basically; the more cars you owned, the more subsidy you received and those who did not own any cars did not receive any subsidy. When the decision was taken to remove the subsidy, consumption would drop a little bit and thus the subsidy will be reduced as well and this way you can reallocate the funds to other, more deserving aspects for the marginalised communities.
Why didn’t the state follow through with the decision regarding the petroleum subsidy this June?
It would have been very wise to carry on with the decision regarding petroleum this July, but there are factors that make the decision maker think twice before making the final decision. It is necessary to have a balanced situation. So when the situation becomes a bit better, inflation decreases, and unemployment decreases, the decision can be made, so as not to inflame the current situation even more.
Are there tools to measure whether this subsidy has reached those who deserve it?
There is a current study on the household budget that measures the standard of living, poverty and a lot of other indicators, which lasts for a year ending this December, so results on this issue will be available starting next year. We observe and research the representative sample of the population, how much they spend, their income and whether poverty has increased or decreased. Poverty should have decreased, since billions were directed towards the more marginalised communities.
There is a technical question, does the agency propose studies to the state or does the state request them from the agency?
The profession of statistics has its own code of conduct; it is a much organised endeavour. The role of CAPMAS is clear; that is producing official statistics. The international statistical community receives its technical references from the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD). This division dictates the types of statistics to be produced by statistical agencies around the world. It also mentors those agencies on the profession of producing statistics through annual conferences. We, as CAPMAS, perform the same role as any other statistical agency in the world, which is producing statistics on the society and its characteristics. Our routine work already offers the state all the data it needs, however the state sometimes requests information on particular issues.
Sometimes we have a problem when trying to obtain figures on the number of patients with certain viruses, while the availability of these figures is vital for the state. Why do you think that is the case?
This is not carried out by CAPMAS, but the ministry of health. The ministry carries out its study on health demographics, and all these figures are presented in that study. CAPMAS is not responsible for documenting the number of patients in society, because this requires a researcher accompanied by a doctor who would carry out the necessary medical tests, so it is a specialised research. The information produced by the agency can be divided as follows – 15% is carried out by the agency itself while 85% come from supporting entities. The pillar of any national statistical system is the nation’s official statistical agency, supported by other agencies and bodies. In our case, the Ministry of Finance, the Central Bank of Egypt, the ministries and governorates are all elements of the national statistical system. The agency provides these supporting entities with the necessary tools and reports so they can carry out their research, so they follow the agency’s guidelines, while the agency follows the guidelines set by the international statistical community, which are constantly evolving.
The agency gives specialised trainings to researchers and data collectors. There is a statistical unit in each ministry and governorate. The ministries are not responsible for publishing the data and statistics, but it is the responsibility of the agency.
A local NGO reported that a significant portion of the population (almost 8%), specifically those who live in rural or underdeveloped areas, are not registered, presenting a difficulty to rely on official statistics. What is your opinion on this?
The basis on which these percentages are calculated is unclear. When you come to ask about any statistics that the agency produces, I will be able to tell you the methodology that led to the production of this statistic. So I need to know how this percentage was calculated and the methodology behind it first in order to consider it. We have data on all the governorates including the farthest ones. The phenomenon you referred to is present, but it represents a very minor percentage. All families are now keen on producing birth certificates for their children in order to provide health care for them. This phenomenon will be present in places where there is no education or no access to units. However, this issue is not worrying. When carrying out the periodic census, the agency is able to penetrate the local society and benefit from the help of the local community in order to get the information it needs. The military intelligence also helps us reach the community because they are on good terms with tribes and families in many areas.
Why do we sometimes find conflicting official figures?
This is due to a lack of statistical awareness, because in reality, there is only one publisher for every statement. There is only one entity that publishes a certain statement. For example, the CBE might produce information that conflicts with the agency’s report on the same issue. This does not mean that these are conflicting figures; it only means that both entities rely on a different basis for calculation, because each one produces reports for its own purpose.
The media also causes this confusion regarding official figures, because sometimes the press attributes figures to the wrong source, and there is a lack of coordination among journalists working in the same economy section of a newspaper. We hold workshops for journalists in order to be trained on reporting this type of news.
What about the Information and Decision Support Centre (IDSC)? Does it publish information?
The centre does not produce statements or reports. When the cabinet wants to research a certain issue, it asks the IDSC to collect information regarding that issue from the producers of this information and then it delivers to the prime minister its policy recommendations. But the centre’s focus and interests differs according to the prime minister in office, and the important issues of the time. IDSC is a most important user of the agency’s data and statistics, its requests are a priority for us. Therefore, our roles are complementary, and not overlapping.
CAPMAS is quadruple the size of the largest statistical agency in the world in terms of the number of employees. There are almost 5,000 employees, with 3,000 working in the headquarters and the rest spread over 46 governmental offices, as some governorates have more than one office.
Who carries out field research?
Those working in the governorates carry out field research and sometimes we recruit temporary researchers to work on specific reports. Some research topics are not done periodically, but only once for specific reasons. We invest a lot of time and effort in recruiting and training the personnel. All forms received from households or entities are revised by employees who are tasked with contacting the data provider to revise the data, but this is done only on a number of forms.
Is there any cooperation between the agency and grassroots associations, like charity organisations?
Many of these associations come to the agency to take the information they need. But they do not provide information, as they are not working by the rules and methodology of the discipline. They can produce information serving their own function for their own use. We cooperate with any association that carries out a public service.
What are examples of upcoming publications by CAPMAS?
There are the routine and ongoing reports produced by the agency and sometimes national and international organisations request information about certain topics. An upcoming publication will tackle the economic cost of violence against women. There is another study on time usage, and one on local society and the services offered in 4,400 villages.
Do you believe journalists recognise the importance of this agency?
The role of CAPMAS is not fully recognised by society in general, not just journalists, and the agency bears responsibility for this as it should market its own products. The state must invest in this agency because information is a very important requirement for decision-making. We do not have a shortage of supplies and we rely on the state as well as other entities in order to upgrade our services. Reliable data is considered a national resource.