Unscrambling Data to Keep Politicians Honest

May 29, 2014

Unscrambling Data to Keep Politicians Honest


Numbers about growth, development, inflation, corruption were going to be used by politicians to build cases against their rivals and bring credit to themselves. This was a crucial time to fact-check the statistics being churned out, said Govindraj Ethiraj, the founder of IndiaSpend.com, a Mumbai-based nonprofit dedicated to data-driven journalism.

When the organization launched in 2011, it ran a section on its website called “Fact Check.” In the run-up to the Indian elections that small section on the website became a larger operation: “Factchecker,” a blog dedicated to verifying facts and figures, was born.

Mr. Ethiraj said the handiest instrument in the process was the Right to Information Act. The legislation passed in 2005 allows people to get information from the federal government and simultaneously pushes government agencies to supply statistics and release more data, Mr. Ethiraj said. Activists who make use of the law say it helps promote greater transparency in a country where politics is laden with corruption.

Factchecker turned its attention to meeting Indian voters’ need for information on issues like inflation, slowing economic growth and unemployment. Its goal was to convince people that it was a bad idea to vote based solely on emotion instead of precise data, Mr. Ethiraj said.

To do this, the fact-checking team monitored claims and counterclaims by politicians.

In what was titled, “A Fact Check on Congress’ Fact Check on Narendra Modi,” Mr. Ethiraj’s team fact-checked the Congress party’s efforts to fact-check assertions made about the rival Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi. (Got that?)

In some cases, Mr. Ethiraj’s team concluded that both sides were wrong in what they said about Mr. Modi’s record as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat. For example, both gave the wrong figure for how much India spends on education. The right answer: 3.9% of its gross domestic product.

Numbers don’t lie, Mr. Ethiraj says. But sometimes people remain in denial because their views are built on popular opinion. For them, he said, cold, hard facts can be hard to digest.

“The popular discourse is transmitted at high decibel levels and really the reason why we exist is to fight it,” he said.



About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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