Andreas Georgiou ’83 Discusses Statistical Reform
Issue   |   Wed, 11/18/2015 - 02:39

Former head of the Greek Statistics Office Andreas Georgiou ’83 discussed his experience as the Greek government’s chief statistician and the current criminal charges against him during his speech at Converse Hall on Wednesday, Nov. 11.

After a 21-year tenure at the International Monetary Fund starting in 1989, Georgiou accepted a position as the head of the National Statistical Service of Greece in 2010. Georgiou created a new office called the Hellenic Statistics Authority, or ELSTAT. This action removed the statistical office from the Ministry of Finance and reformed the office to follow the EU’s Statistics Code of Practice.

“The first thing that I did was eliminate pre-release access to users and policymakers,” Georgiou said. “We had to establish a strong sense of the statistical perimeter.”

A short time after starting his position with the Greek statistical office, Georgiou published an updated report of the 2009 Greek budget deficit, which found the deficit to be three points higher than what the original report had claimed due to manipulated statistics. Georgiou spoke about situations before his arrival at the statistics office in which statistics had been manipulated, including errors in the budget deficit and recording the government’s revenue.

“There was no sense of the statistical perimeter,” Georgiou said.

According to Georgiou, the report ignited outrage from Greek politicians and catalyzed criminal charges of falsifying data,as well as slander of those responsible for the original report and others. Georgiou is no longer the head of ELSTAT and awaits trial in late November and early December. Georgiou’s role in bringing to light these faulty statistics has been supported by organizations including the IMF and Eurostat.

“I think that Andreas has shown immense personal courage in standing by his principles in the face of what can only be called political persecution,” said Geoffrey Woglom, a professor of economics. Woglom taught Georgiou during his time at Amherst and invited him to speak on campus.

Georgiou also described the European Union’s Statistics Code of Practice, which ensures the integrity and reliability of the statistics produced by each nation. Georgiou said he used these as a basis to advocate for a governmental separation between policymakers and statisticians, which would result in “accurate, objective, impartial, as well as high quality statistics to use as the basis for policymakers to debate policies and make decisions. [Under this system,] the statistics are guaranteed to be as objective and as accurate as possible.”

According to Georgiou, the Greek government had not adhered to these principles before he became chief statistician. He said was allowed to occur in part because the National Statistical Service had been controlled by the Minister of Finance, which exerted political influences on statistical procedures.

“The heads of the statistics office would change with the changes of the party government,” Georgiou said. “There were no exceptions — a new government would come, and the [former head] would be out.”

Georgiou said these changes were unpopular with the policymakers who had previously been able to manipulate the statistical office’s findings to fit their political agendas. He said that although he faced opposition, he tried to fight to create an office committed to statistical integrity.