Supporting reliable statistics in the “post-truth” era: Moldova is the first country to apply the UNECE Generic Law on Official Statistics

In 1941, Sir Winston Churchill was troubled by the “utmost confusion caused when people argue on different figures”. He gave official statistics the task to produce an “agreed body of information” to avoid such confusion. This task is still valid today as people need to be able to distinguish reliable information from “fake news” and “alternative facts”.

A few years before the rise of the so-called “post-truth” era, in 2014, Chief Statisticians discussed what makes official statistics unique in the midst of all other information, data, and indicators. They soon agreed upon an agenda to promote, communicate, and measure the value of official statistics as a global asset. They also agreed that to fully enshrine that value, the legal frameworks of official statistics needed reinforcing. Only with a strong legal backing can countries ensure the production of impartial and reliable information that is free of any outside influence. This will be especially relevant when developing statistics in the context of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda will challenge all statistical systems to produce numerous indicators, fill in data gaps, avoid methodological pitfalls, and to coordinate the work of many new partners.

The Eastern European countries were the first to request the development of international guidance on statistical legislation. UNECE teamed up with Eurostat, EFTA, the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD) and a few countries, to consider what makes a strong legal framework for statistics. As a result, in 2016, the Conference of European Statisticians endorsed the Generic Law on Official Statistics.

Now, several countries are modernizing their legal frameworks according to the Generic Law. One of the first countries to do so is Moldova, which adopted the new statistical law in 2017. According to Mr. Vitalie Valcov, General Director of the National Bureau of Statistics in Moldova, the new law has improved the production of statistics in the country: "The new law on official statistics, based on the Generic Law on Official Statistics, raises the position of official statistics and statistical authorities, and helps to develop a statistical culture in Moldova. For us, the new law means, first of all the modernization of processes and products, rethinking of roles, better interaction in the national statistical system and it involves, of course, better statistics for a more evidence-based decision-making, and thus, better results and impact on people’s lives.”

As the next step, a group of experts will extend the Generic Law so that it is applicable to all countries. They will draw on the experience gained by pioneers, such as Moldova and now also Armenia where the new law came into force in April 2018. The upcoming publication UNECE Guidance on Common Elements of Statistical Legislation (under consultation) aims to ensure that, regardless of country, everyone has equal access to information affecting their lives and society they live in, their data privacy is fully respected, and decisions affecting people are based on impartial information, produced according to the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Official Statistics.