This post is part of series of responses to observations made during a discussion on the “Aluth Parlimenthuwa” show on TV Derana. Read Part II here.
There is value in engaging with people with different worldviews. I had such an opportunity during a rare television talk show on ICT issues on Derana.
A senior policymaker in the science and technology policy area stated that ICT-related exports were not in the top ten only to be quickly corrected by two other panelists. I wondered why such an elementary error was made by an obviously intelligent and otherwise informed person.
The answer lies in the fact that what is reported is trade in goods. When one looks for information on exports, one is likely to come across nice charts and tables such as this. It does not say the data are about goods exports only. It says exports. But no information is provided regarding service exports in a country where more than 50 percent of the population is engaged in the service sector.
One has to look elsewhere to see that the sector was generating USD 850 million in 2014. It should be even higher now. With a few exceptions, people know that the apparel sector (knit and non-knit) is the leading export industry. But few know that the net export value of the apparel sector is actually much less because many of the inputs such as zippers, dyes, textiles have to be imported. In contrast, the net export value generated by the software and IT enabled services is very high. This is the export of knowledge.
If I take the 2015 data reported by the World Bank site above as correct, software and IT enabled services (USD 850 million plus) are now ahead of rubber products (USD 790 million).
To prevent government officials of good will making errors and producing faulty policies as a result, we have to ensure that good data are reported. And of course, that such officials look for such data.