20-Day Countdown to 13GE – Lies, Damn Lies and PEMANDU Statistics

Oh! What a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

Sir Walter Scott, Marmion, Canto vi. Stanza 17.
Scottish author & novelist (1771 – 1832)

Datuk Seri Idris Jala, CEO of PEMANDU has issued a statement stating that growth of Gross National Income (GNI) per capita in US dollars from 2009 to 2012 has been revised down to 41 percent from 49 percent.

He is reported to have said that the revision arose following the adoption of a new accounting method, rather than a deliberate attempt to fudge numbers.

He pointed out that the change in figures was due to the adoption of the latest version of the United Nations System of National Accounting (SNA 2008) in 2012 which had pushed the GNI per capita up for 2009 from US$6700 to US$7059.

He offered other weak and lame reasons defending the method and the numbers put out by PEMANDU.

Little of what he said cuts much ice. The change in numbers makes little difference. The attribution to an adoption of a new method or international standard has little to do with the nature of the numbers.

He has been caught in a gross deception by applying the concept of GNI to project growth in per capita incomes of individuals. GNI is defined by the UN Statistical Division as:

Gross national income (GNI) is GDP less net taxes on production and imports, less compensation of employees and property income payable to the rest of the world plus the corresponding items receivable from the rest of the world (in other words, GDP less primary incomes payable to non-resident units plus primary incomes receivable from non-resident units). An alternative approach to measuring GNI at market prices is as the aggregate value of the balances of gross primary incomes for all sectors; (note that gross national income is identical to gross national product (GNP) as previously used in national accounts)

The Department of Statistics, Malaysia, in its Annual National Accounts: Gross Domestic Product (GDP) 2005 – 2011, indicates that it defines GNI as: Gross national income (GNI) is the aggregate value of the balances of gross primary incomes for all sectors; (gross national income is identical to gross national product (GNP) as hitherto understood in national accounts generally).

These definitions make it patently clear that GNI is an aggregate value and covers more than what households receive. Thus, GNI per Capita is not a measure of what can be attributed as a receipt by households. This is best illustrated by the following Table. PEMANDU has used the wrong tool.


(In Current Prices)

Period Gross Domestic Product (GDP) Net factor income payments from abroad Gross National Income (GNI) Mid-year population (’000) Per capita GNI (RM) Gross national savings
2005 543,578 -23,942 519,635 26,046 19,951 200,109
2006 596,784 -17,294 579,490 26,550 21,826 231,519
2007 665,340 -13,984 651,355 27,058 24,073 257,943
2008 769,949 -23,034 746,915 27,568 27,094 296,630
2009 712,857 -14,215 698,642 28,082 24,879 237,869
2010 795,037 -26,514 768,523 28,589 26,882 272,114
2011 881,080 -21,971 859,108 28,964 29,661 304,907
2012 937,532 -33,683 903,850 29,337 30,809 298,704

Source: Table 3.3.1 Bank Negara Malaysia, Monthly Statistical Bulletin, January 2013

It is clear from this table that GNI is a derivative of GDP with an adjustment for certain external payments. GNI is not what accrues to households.

The conventional measure for assessing what accrues to individuals is represented by Private Final Consumption (PFC). It is this what individuals have and therefore it is this that is the appropriate yard stick. The estimates of PFC per Capita tell a very different tale from the one being spun by PEMANDU and by the Prime Minister.

Private Final Consumption Per Capita

(in Current Prices)

Year Private Final Consumption (RM Million) As percentage Share of GDP (Percent) Mid – Year Population (‘000) Per Capita Private Final Consumption (RM) Exchange Rate Per Capita Private Final Consumption (US $)
2005 240,188 44.2% 26,046 9,222 3.6682 2,514
2006 264,584 44.3% 26,550 9,965 3.4375 2,899
2007 300,418 45.2% 27,058 11,103 3.3333 3,331
2008 344,215 44.7% 27,568 12,486 3.5246 3,543
2009 348,168 48.8% 28,082 12,398 3.2211 3,849
2010 377,631 47.5% 28,589 13,209 3.0600 4,317
2011 418,473 47.5% 28,964 14,448 3.0888 4,678

Source: Department of Statistics, Malaysia. ANNUAL NATIONAL ACCOUNTS, GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT (GDP) 2005 – 2011

What is significant is that the percentage share of GDP accruing to households between 2005 and 2011 in current price terms was virtually unchanged. Thus, factoring in inflation, households have hardly benefitted from overall GDP growth. This substantiates the point made by many analysts that earnings and incomes have stagnated, that growth has not benefitted nor contributed to a rise in living standards.

The PEMANDU report and the Prime Minister have shamelessly indulged in claiming an increase of 49 percent (now scaled back to 41 percent) in per capita incomes.

The truth of the matter is there has been no such implied improvement in the livelihoods of individuals.

These numbers reflect a failure of policies but sadly, a desperate Prime Minister has failed to acknowledge the failure.

Even more telling is the fact that he has crowed about continuing on this path and promised the nirvana of reaching by 2020 a high income status with a level of US$15,000 GNI per capita, a measure with little meaning as far as the man in the street is concerned.

The magic figure of US$ 15,000 with which the powers-that-be are obsessed requires some clarification.

What PEMANDU has done is a two stage juggle. It has first converted the GNI per Capita series in Ringgit terms into US Dollars. The resulting converted numbers in US Dollars differ grossly from the World Bank’s US $ GNI per Capita figures for Malaysia as can be observed from the Table below.


Year RM GNI per capita Exchange Rate to US $ GNI Per Capita in US$ (BANK NEGARA) GNI Per Capita US$ (PEMANDU) GNI Per Capita US $(WORLD BANK ATLAS METHOD)
2009 24,879 3.5246 7,059 6,700 7,550
2010 26,886 3.2211 8,346 8,100 8,090
2011 29,661 3.0600 9,693 9,700 8,770
2012 30,809 3,0888 9.974 9,970 NA

The second juggle that PEMANDU has done concerns the determination of the projected “High Income” level.

The PEMANDU Report states: “The World Bank’s current GNI per capita threshold for a high income economy is US$12,476. We factored in the World Bank’s published historical global inflation figure of two per cent until 2020 to arrive at a high-income threshold of US$15,000.”

This is totally flawed for several reasons. First and foremost the threshold figure of US$12,476 for High Income level is based on a unique method called the World Bank Atlas method and is in current dollar terms. It must be stressed that this figure is never projected by the World Bank. Indeed, it cannot be projected and certainly not in the manner done by PEMANDU.

When the Prime Minister introduced the PEMANDU Report, he added insult to injury. He prevaricated by not acknowledging that the nation’s long suffering taxpayers will be further burdened by the imposition of the GST, the withdrawal of consumer subsidies, and the reduction of vital services in the field of health with the privatization that is planned.

The Prime Minister cannot deny that these steps are in the works should he be re-elected. Indeed, these measures have been discussed with the IMF which warned the Government about the exploding debt.

PEMANDU has demonstrated via its annual report a level of incompetence beyond belief.

Its CEO must be held accountable; he has sullied his professional reputation by sanctioning the use of fabricated numbers generated by highly paid consultants with little competence or understanding of rudimentary macro-economic analytical tools. He and the Prime Minister owe the public an apology.

It is time for a change of Government.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Ipoh Timur