Power struggle rages over Russia’s state statistics

Power struggle rages over Russia’s state statistics
A general view of a building of the Federal State Statistics Service (Rosstat) in Moscow. Russia's economy expanded for the first time in two years in the fourth quarter of 2016, data from the state statistics service showed. (AFP)
Updated 03 April 2017

Power struggle rages over Russia’s state statistics

Power struggle rages over Russia’s state statistics

MOSCOW: Reports that Russia’s Economy Ministry is set to take control of the national statistics agency has sparked fears that indicators crucial to monitoring the country’s economic woes could become skewed.

Data from the Rosstat state statistics agency has been key in measuring the extent of the country’s economic crisis, triggered three years ago by tumbling oil prices and Western sanctions over Ukraine, and is thus key to forecasts about when recovery is possible.
With Russians worried about their shrinking purchasing power and a presidential election due next year, perceptions about the economy and its outlook are touchy topics.
Enter into this volatile mix a switch by Rosstat to new calculation methods that are in line with European standards, which has caused rampant confusion inside the agency that has resulted in it publishing reports late and issuing major corrections to its findings.
Widespread issues over the adoption of the new methodology have prompted the government to prepare to make Rosstat — which currently reports to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev — answerable to the Economy Ministry in a bid to exercise more control over it, Russian media has reported.
The prime minister’s current oversight is mostly administrative, while the Economy Ministry is responsible for producing forecasts for the government based on Rosstat data.
Analysts fear that as the presidential polls approach Rosstat could come under pressure to produce statistics that would paint a rosy picture of the economy, much as in the Soviet era when authorities used statistics for propaganda purposes, boasting about exceeding production plans.
“This is a pre-election year and if the main socioeconomic indicators are bad, this would look like a lack of respect for the promises” President Vladimir Putin made during his 2012 campaign, said Igor Nikolayev, an analyst at FBK Grant Thornton, an auditing and consulting group.
“If growth reaches 2 percent, then we will say that the sanctions bothered us but all the indicators are now positive,” he added.
Some of Rosstat’s new calculations have proved encouraging for authorities. The agency revised upward its production indicator and calculated that the economy had contracted by only 2.8 percent in 2015 — instead of the 3.7 percent it had previously estimated.
It also said that the economy contracted by only 0.2 percent last year, instead of the 0.6 percent it had previously measured. These changes in Russia’s indicators have transformed the storyline of the country’s economic crisis. With the new figures, Russia’s government can proudly proclaim that the economy has shown unexpected resistance to the double shock of low oil prices and sanctions thanks to a boost to the industry from the weak ruble and dynamic small businesses.
Last month a low indicator for industrial production that was published behind schedule by Rosstat sent a jolt through the Economy Ministry.
Economy Minister Maxim Oreshkin, who took on the position in November, said Rosstat’s transition to its new methodology had been “very unfortunate” and that he expected its figures to undergo “major revisions” while his ministry prepares to announce its forecasts.
In a 2013 report, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) group of leading economies praised Rosstat’s “high level of professionalism” while saying the agency should improve its methodology for calculating gross domestic product (GDP) and its compliance with international standards.
Former Deputy Economy Minister Alexei Vedev told TASS news agency that Rosstat’s rocky transition to its new methods was the result of resistance by the agency’s ageing staff and the inability to offer attractive wages to young economists.
Changing the supervision of the agency will not solve the problem, Vedev said.
“Our responsibilities will not change with our status,” the head of Rosstat, Alexander Surinov, told Vedomosti business daily, stressing that Russian legislation guarantees the agency’s “professional independence.”
Analysts, however, are skeptical that Rosstat will be able to steer clear of government influence. “The statistics agency must be as independent as possible,” Nikolayev said.
“I have no doubt that a change in leadership will affect Rosstat’s activities, and this will affect the reliability of statistics.”


Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
Updated 16 min 1 sec ago

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang

Smugglers post gold from Dubai to India hidden in Tang
  • It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods

DUBAI: Indian customs have foiled an attempt to post gold from Dubai disguised in containers of the popular Tang drink.

After sieving the contents of the drink mix, Chennai customs officials discovered it had been mixed with gold granules, according to a statement from the Commissioner of Customs at Chennai International Airport.
Officials probing the racket found that the address of the receiver had been misused.
It is the latest ruse by smugglers trying to avoid hefty import duties for the precious metal by employing increasingly intriguing methods.
Earlier this year officials at Chennai airport also nabbed two men trying to smuggle gold through the airport underneath their wigs.
The hapless pair were nabbed after their unusual hairstyles caught the attention of officials.

They were found to be carrying two gold paste packets weighing almost 700 g


UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
Updated 11 May 2021

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal

UK-based tower operator to acquire Omantel sites in $575m deal
  • The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider

DUBAI: British telecommunications company Helios Towers has signed a deal with Omantel to acquire 2,890 sites for $575 million from the sultanate’s largest mobile network operator.
The move signals Helios Towers’ entry to the Middle East market as a major tower infrastructure provider.
The deal is expected to bring in a $59 million bump in revenues in the first full year of operations.
It also involves a $35 million plan to add 300 new build-to-suit sites over the next seven years.
“We view Oman as a very attractive and supportive market for foreign investments, with strong growth and exciting future prospects,” the UK-based company’s chief Kash Pandya said in a statement.
He said the acquisition strengthens its business through “further hard-currency revenues and diversification” in what the CEO described as the fastest growing markets in the region.
“We look forward to working with Omantel and the other MNOs over the coming years to further develop next generation mobile infrastructure solutions and services in Oman,” he added.
The partnership reflects Oman’s FDI aspirations, Omantel CEO Tala Said Al-Mamari said, adding it will create jobs and opportunities in the country.
“This move also allows the monetization of our towers at attractive valuation levels, de-lever our balance sheet, and will accelerate network development in next generation advanced technologies,” he noted.
He said it would allow Omantel’s management to focus on innovation and product development while outsourcing infrastructure management to an independent firm.
The transaction will close by the end of 2021, and the long-term partnership will last for an initial period of 15 years.


Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
Updated 11 May 2021

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020

Arab world renewables growth slows in 2020
  • Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year

DUBAI: The Middle East saw a 5 percent increase in its renewable energy capacity in 2020, as the region’s push to go greener stalled.
Total renewables capacity stood at 24,224 MW last year, according to a report by the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA).
Growth in the sector slowed from the 13 percent increase in renewables capacity achieved between 2018 and 2019, as the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on projects in the pipeline.
Still, the targets set by countries in the region could translate into a combined 80 GW of renewable capacity by 2030, IRENA said.
The global agency said the regional renewables push goes hand-in-hand with the Middle East’s ambition to diversify its economy, with projects typically bringing other economic benefits.
“The region recognizes the socio-economic benefits of renewable energy deployment, which is perceived as an opportunity for industrial diversification, new value-chain activities and technology transfer,” IRENA said.
The UAE has grown its renewable energy capacity from just 13MW in 2011 to 2,540 MW capacity in 2020. Saudi Arabia’s capacity also grew significantly over nine years – starting at only 3MW and increasing to 413 MW last year.


Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
Updated 11 May 2021

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand

Indian oil refiners cut output, imports as pandemic hits demand
  • IOC’s refineries at 95 percent of their capacity in late April
  • Several Indian states remain under lockdown

NEW DELHI: India’s top oil refiners are reducing processing runs and crude imports as the surging COVID-19 pandemic has cut fuel consumption, leading to higher product stockpiles at the plants, company officials told Reuters on Tuesday.
Indian Oil Corp, the country’s biggest refiner, has reduced runs to an average of between 85 percent and 88 percent of processing capacity, a company official said, adding runs could be cut further as some plants are facing problems storing refined oil products.
IOC’s refineries were operating at about 95 percent of their capacity in late April.
“We do not anticipate that our crude processing would be reduced to last year’s level of 65 percent-70 percent as inter-state vehicle movement is still there ... (the) economy is functioning,” he said.
Several states across India are under lockdown as the coronavirus crisis showed scant sign of easing on Tuesday, with a seven-day average of new cases at a record high, although the government of India, the world’s third largest oil importer and consumer, has not implemented a full lockdown.
State-run Bharat Petroleum Corp. has cut its crude imports by 1 million barrels in May and will reduce purchases by 2 million barrels in June, a company official said.
M.K. Surana, chairman of Hindustan Petroleum Corp, expects India’s fuel consumption in May to fall by 5 percent from April as the impact on driving and industrial production is not as severe as last year.
“This time it is not a full lockdown like last time,” he said.
“Sales in April was about 90 percent of March and we expect May could be about 5 percent lower than April.”


Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss

Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss
Updated 11 May 2021

Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss

Sea and space in demand as UAE property buyer mix changes says Aldar boss
  • Aldar said on Monday it had achieved property sales of above 1 billion dirhams for the third consecutive quarter

DUBAI: UAE property buyers are seeking bigger villas and seafront locations as the post-pandemic real estate market puts a premium on space, according to the CEO of Abu Dhabi’s biggest developer.

Aldar Group CEO Talal Al-Dhiyebi also revealed a rapidly changing mix of investors acquiring the developer’s units with the number of Indian expatriate and female investors rising sharply.
Aldar on Monday reported an 80 percent jump in first quarter profit from a year earlier to 544 million dirhams ($148 million), beating analyst expectations.
“The story in Abu Dhabi and Dubai post-pandemic has been very similar where people are moving to prime sea-facing properties. After the lockdowns in Europe and the sub-continent we saw a strong push of people moving in,” said Al-Dhiyebi in an interview with Bloomberg TV on Tuesday. “Our Indian buyers are now our second strongest buyers for the first time in Abu Dhabi. What is also interesting is that it is the first time we have crossed 30 percent female investors in off-plan sales since our inception. So the dynamics have changed. People are looking for opportunities. That has resulted in price increases in those prime and horizontal developments and we expect that to continue until the end of 2021.”
His remarks and the company’s underlying performance are the latest indicator of a shift in sentiment toward some segments of the UAE property market, despite a large overhang of completed and soon-to-be-completed new homes.
Aldar said on Monday it had achieved property sales of above 1 billion dirhams for the third consecutive quarter with its development business reporting a 47 percent year-on-year increase in revenues.