Historical Economic Statistics in Indonesia: Continuity and Change

Pierre van der Eng


The quality of statistical data generated in the less-developed countries of Asia in the past is often considered to be low, and consistent time series often do not stretch further back than the 1950s. However, in the case of Indonesia, the 16 volumes in the series Changing Economy in Indonesia: A Selection of Statistical Source Material from the Early 19th Century up to 1940 (1975-1995) seem to suggest that relatively modern and consistent data on, for instance, population, foreign trade and food production are available from the early 19th century.

The quality of Indonesia's historical statistics has been the subject of continuous debate. One way to assess quality is to ponder the reasons why statistics were collected and to gauge the technical and financial resources which were committed to this effort. The history of statistical reporting in colonial Indonesia suggests that, not the poor quality of the data, but rather the growing use of economic statistics in the formulation of macro-economic policies, led to a gradual improvement in statistical reporting. Understanding the historical changes in the process by which such policies were formulated therefore helps us to understand changes in the quality of the statistical data.

From 'Enumerations' to Annual Reports

In the early 19th century, the first attempts to collect statistical data were restricted to the areas in Java under direct colonial rule, and conducted mainly in order to obtain impressions of the taxable base in the Javanese economy. For instance, data on the number of households was used to allocate the compulsory cultivation of cash crops. However, the statistical 'enumerations' (opnemingen) during 1816-24 failed to provide a comprehensive statistical overview of Java, largely because they were compiled differently in each of the residencies.

These 'enumerations' were later standardized and conducted annually, but improvement of statistical reporting was impeded by the philosophy behind the Cultivation System. It provided for indirect colonial rule (and therefore data collection) through indigenous heads and prohibited extensive direct contact between local colonial administrators and the indigenous population.

The imperfect statistical data, including population and various aspects of the indigenous economy, were aggregated in appendices to a series of annual reports from 1834.(1) The data were largely compiled by local colonial administrators, not by professional statisticians, on the basis of extensive surveys and censuses. Around 1850, it was common knowledge that the accuracy of the data was questionable.

The colonial administration was extended with specialized departments such as Finance (1855), Public Works (1855), Education, Religion and Industry (1866), Justice (1870), and Agriculture (1905), and the collection of statistical data was transferred to them. The annual reports were increasingly compiled with statistical data from these departments, rather than from local colonial administrators. The available statistical data became increasingly bountiful, but its accuracy remained in doubt, given that civil servants were generally not trained to collect such data and check its accuracy. Indeed, the annual reports attached three labels to the data: 'rather accurate,' 'estimated,' and 'based on guesses.'

Around 1900, most data was produced by the various departments, but also by (semi) government bodies, such as the Java Bank and the state railway company in Java, and by private companies, such as the inter-island shipping company KPM. Accuracy and coverage of the data were therefore very much related to the purpose for which data was collected. For instance, the data on food production continued to be collected for land tax purposes. Areas where the tax was not collected (such as the Principalities of Yogyakarta and Surakarta, and all the Outer Islands) were therefore not included.

Centralization and Professionalization

Statistical coverage continued to expand after 1900 with the extension of the administrative tasks which the colonial government allotted to the growing number of specialized departments, in response to the economic and social development of Indonesia. The departments required more extensive and more accurate quantitative information to prepare and execute their tasks.

The aggregated data from the Colonial Reports was re-published by the Dutch Bureau of Statistics in a section of the Dutch annual statistical yearbook.(2) This ended after the establishment in 1920 of a specialized Statistical Office (Statistisch Kantoor) at the new Department of Agriculture, Industry and Trade (1911), which was established as an ad-hoc attempt to centralize the collection of statistics by the various divisions of the department.

In response to widespread concerns about food supply, the Statistical Office first reorganized the system used to monitor food production in Java from an administrative aid for the collection of land tax to a remarkably accurate monthly overview of planted and harvested areas in Java, Bali, and Lombok. The office soon started the collection of various important new data, such as the wholesale and urban and rural retail price indices. It also became responsible for data on the production of plantation and farm cash crops, and foreign trade statistics. The work of the Statistical Office was so momentous that the colonial government decided to centralize the collection of all statistics with the establishment in 1925 of the Central Office of Statistics (Central Kantoor voor de Statistiek, CKS). The actual tasks of CKS were never properly defined by law, but its role quickly grew in importance.

The economic crisis of the 1930s increased the need to closely monitor business cycles and gave greater urgency to the work of CKS, which streamlined and expedited data collection, developed methods of gauging business cycles, and pioneered, for instance, the planning of food production. Although its efforts were curtailed by the underdevelopment of statistical techniques, such as sampling, CKS quickly became a core section within the Department of Economic Affairs (1934). A series of government ordinances gave CKS the authority to collect the data which private enterprise was reluctant to submit, such as data on prices, wages, employment, and industrial production. CKS increasingly collected and processed data by itself, but it continued to rely largely on basic data supplied by the departments, which it advised on improving statistical reporting.(3) By 1941, it employed about 700 people.

Interlude and Prelude

During the Japanese occupation (1942-45), Indonesia was subdivided into three administrative areas. Not much is known about statistical reporting in the Outer Islands. The Japanese authorities in Java continued CKS, which was incorporated in 1944 in the Office for General Research (Chosashitsu). The publication of statistical data was discontinued. Details on data compilation are sketchy, but it appears that it continued in Java. However, except for a complete series on food production in Java during 1941-46, only patchy statistical data seems to have survived.

The war of independence (1945-49) caused further disruption. The Chosashitsu was continued by the Republic of Indonesia after August 1945 as the Kantor Penjelidikan Oemoem (KPO), but was moved to Yogyakarta in 1946. CKS was reestablished in Jakarta in 1947. It gradually resumed statistical reporting, although its reporting was limited to the areas under Dutch control. After the Dutch recognition of Indonesian independence in December 1949, CKS and KPO were merged to form the Kantor Pusat Statistik (KPS), which remained part of the Department of Economic Affairs.

The new Indonesian republic inherited an administrative system, which the colonial authorities had created during two periods of economic hardship and scarcity (the 1930s and late 1940s). Consequently, large sections of the economy were tightly regulated. The Indonesian government continued and extended these controls in order to guide the direction and pace of economic development. The availability of adequate and recent statistical information was paramount to this endeavor. However, most of the skilled Dutch officials left KPS, while funding became increasingly tight during the 1950s.

KPS pursued some new initiatives. For instance, it guided the Department of Agriculture in extending food production statistics to the Outer Islands and the improvement of fisheries statistics. It also improved reporting of industrial production after a survey in 1954. But to a large extent KPS continued to collect data from the departments.(4) For instance, it still estimated food production on the basis of data supplied by the Land Tax Organization and the Agricultural Extension Service. It estimated population on the basis of registered vital statistics supplied by the Department of Health. Reporting of industrial and services production was largely confined to the data supplied by public enterprises, such as the state railway company.

KPS did not have the means to independently check the accuracy of the data supplied to it. Its first Indonesian director, Sarbini Sumawinata (1955-65), later indicated that in the late 1950s, when economic circumstances started to worsen, it became increasingly clear that slack discipline and honesty in the public administration affected the reliability of the data. The rate of non-response to the questionnaires which KPS sent out to departments escalated, while the response time increased due to deteriorating communications.

KPS faced an increasing number of difficulties after 1955, one of which was finding adequately trained personnel. Employment at KPS remained around 700, but an increasing share of the employees were clerical and 'lower grade' staff, indicating a shortage of trained and experienced people. To fill the gap, KPS established an Academy of Statistics (Akademi Ilmu Statistik) in 1953, where lecturers from other universities taught high school graduates in a three-year training course.

The establishment of the academy was timely, because the government hatched plans to expand KPS. One reason was that KPS had to prepare the 1960s population census (postponed to 1961), for which it required more resources. A second reason was that President Sukarno inaugurated the Guided Economy (Ekonomi Terpimpin) development strategy in 1959, as a consequence of which, the government explicitly acknowledged the crucial importance of accurate and more extensive statistics for economic planning.

Reorganization and Expansion

Law No. 6 of 1960 gave the KPS the authority to conduct population and other censuses required for planning purposes, while Law No. 7 of 1960 established the Biro Pusat Statistik (BPS) as an autonomous institution, directly responsible to the cabinet. BPS was to have provincial offices, which in turn were to have branches at kabupaten (district) level and field workers at the level of the more than 3,000 kecamatan (sub-district). The practical reason for this extension was the fact that BPS required facilities to be able to organize censuses and surveys without having to rely on the lower-level administrative layers.

BPS continued to depend on the supply of data from the departments, which to a large extent continued they ways in which they collected primary data. However, BPS was now supposed to act as organizer and coordinator of data collection. Moreover, it now had a mandate to develop new initiatives in the form of censuses and sample surveys in order to check the consistency and reliability of reported data, and to augment them. Employment at BPS increased quickly to 875 in 1961 and 1,490 in 1963.

The preparation of the 1961 population census was supported by a UN-sponsored German demographer. This example was followed in the form of UN sponsorship of the Statistical Research and development Center (SRCD, Pusat Penelitian serta Perkembangan Statistik), established in 1962 at BPS to develop and implement the censuses and sample surveys. The project arranged for several international consultants to provide advice to SRDC and to teach at the Academy of Statistics. For instance, V.O. Kannisto and K. Ueda were involved in the processing and analysis of the 1961 population census, while K.N.C. Pillai laid the foundations of national accounting at BPS.

Although it was plagued by many difficulties, such as the depreciation of salaries of Indonesian staff, SRDC conducted an agricultural census in 1963. It also improved industrial statistics and carried out an extensive industrial survey in October 1964. An important novelty was the national sample survey aimed at the collection of socioeconomic statistics at household level (Susenas) in 1963/64 in Java and 1964/65 in the whole country. These surveys were initially designed as very extensive surveys, including data on employment, housing and land use, but they were later restricted to household budget surveys.

UN support of the project was cut short by the fact that Indonesia withdrew from the UN in 1965, one symptom of the chaotic situation into which Indonesia sank. BPS did not even have sufficient funds to process and publish the data which SRDC collected.(5)

Restarting Expansion

The dramatic political changes during 1965-66 not only implied a new start for Indonesian economy and society, but also for BPS. The new government acknowledged the importance of adequate economic statistics and the work of BPS to the effort of achieving economic recovery in Indonesia. Consequently, the provincial statistical offices, which had functioned as field offices for the censuses were formally established in 1968 as Kantor Sensus dan Statistik in all provinces.

Since that moment, the development of statistical reporting and the expansion and complexity of BPS have by and large run parallel to the accelerated development of Indonesiafs society and economy. To a large extent BPS continued to rely on administrative data generated by departments and (semi) public enterprises, but it became increasingly involved in the further expansion and improvement of the collection of these data. Moreover, BPS increasingly carried out its own surveys in a range of fields to augment or correct the data reported to it. For instance, food production data improved considerably with the development and introduction of better crop cutting surveys.

The greater activity generated by BPS can be gauged with the growth of its personnel to 4,334 in 1971 and 12,415 in 1995, and the proliferation of its publications. BPS conducted the important population censuses of 1971, 1980, and 1990, and the agricultural censuses of 1973, 1983, and 1993, which became the foundation of a range of sample surveys in related areas such as the development of the labor force. Other innovations have been the annual publication of production data in sectors which had previously been covered in a piecemeal way, such as industry (since 1975) and construction (since 1989).(6)

In Conclusion

It is obvious that the quality and coverage of Indonesia f s economic statistics have improved continuously, especially during the last 100 years. However, it should be noted that the openness about the methodology used in data collection has faded since the 1960s. The reasons can only be surmised. The considerable burden on senior employees of BPS of producing accurate statistics may have left them little time for analysis of procedures and results. It could also be that such analysis was conducted more openly in the past because interested specialists were scattered throughout the public service, while BPS now employs so many well-trained statisticians that the methods can be evaluated internally. The lack of publications on methodology and the gritty details behind the data make it difficult for the users to assess their quality. This is certainly an element which the collaborators in the Asian Historical Statistics Project should bear in mind when seeking to reconcile the definitions underlying the different time series which have been generated in Indonesia over the years.


(1) Verslag van de Direkteur over de Kultures [Report of the Director of Cultivations] (1834-50) and Koloniaal Verslag [Colonial Report] (1851-1949).

(2) Jaarcijfers voor het Koninkrijk der Nederlanden - Kolonie N n (1887-1921).

(3) CKS became the focal point for the dissemination of statistical information on colonial Indonesia. It took over the publication of the annual statistical yearbook, which continued to appear as Statistisch Jaaroverzicht voor Nederlandsch-Indie N (1922-30) and Indisch Verslag Vol. 2 (1931-41). More detailed statistics and analysis were contained in the almost 200 monographs in the series Mededeelingen van het CKS (since 1920), and in the weekly journal Economisch Weekblad voor Nederlandsch-Indie N /Indonsie N >(1932-53). Other institutions also generated relevant publications. For instance, the appendices to the minutes of the People's Council (Bijlagen tot de Handelingen van de Volksraad, 1828-1954), contain details of government budgets, while the annual reports of the Java Bank (Verslag van den President van de Javasche Bank, 1828-1954), contain data on the monetary economy.

(4) The Statistical Pocketbook of Indonesia (1956-68) contains lists of the increasing number of departments on which KPS relied for its basic data. KPS regularly published several individual series on, e.g., foreign trade, agricultural production, and monthly economic indicators (Ichtisar Bulananan Statistik, later Statistik Konjuktur). All series and the estimation methods employed have been summarized by Van de Graaff (1955).

(5) The lack of funds is best illustrated by the fact that BPS had to suspend the publication of its Statistical Pocketbook during 1964-67. The difficulties during these years can be inferred from Nugroho f s (1965, 1967) overviews of statistical publications. Some of the censuses and surveys conducted by SRDC were released later in the 1960s, but several of the Susenas I-II data have never been published.

(6) The development of BPS has been extensively documented in BPS (1995), a recent volume commemorating the role of BPS and its predecessors during the 50 years of Indonesia f s independence.


BPS (1995) Statistik dalam 50 Tahun Indonesia Merdeka: Peranan dan Aktivitas [Statistics in the 50 years of Free Indonesia: role and activity]. Jakarta: Biro Pusat Statistik.

CKS (1928) "De Arbeid van het Centraal Kantoor voor de Statistiek, in het Bijzonder met Betrekking tot de Welvaart der Inheemsche Bevolking" [The work of CKS, in particular in relation to the prosperity of the indigenous population], Mededeelingen der Regeering omtrent Enkele Onderwerpen van Algemeen Belang, pp. 99-129.

CKS (1946) "Het Centraal Kantoor voor de Statistiek" [The CKS], Economisch Weekblad voor Nederlandsch-Indie N

Creutzberg, P. and J.T.M. van Laanen (1987) Sejarah Statistik Ekonomi Indonesia [The history of economic statistics in Indonesia]. Jakarta: Yayasan Obor.

Encyclopaedie (1919) "Statistiek" [Statistics] in Encyclopaedie van Nederlandsch-Indie N, Vol. 4, pp. 103-108 and Vol. 6, pp. 750-754.

Fukami, S. (1988) "Nihon Gunseika Jawa ni okeru Chosa Kenkyu Kikan" [Research institutes in Java during the Japanese occupation], Nichiran Gakkaishi, 13, pp. 21-36.

Nugroho (1965) "Dua Puluh Tahun Perkembangan Statistik di Indonesia" [Twenty years of statistical research in Indonesia] in M. Makagiansar, ed., Research di Indonesia 1945-1965 (Jakarta: Dep. Urusan Research Nasional RI), Vol. 4, pp. 354-375.

Nugroho (1967) Indonesia: Facts and Figures. Jakarta: Terbitan Pertjobaan BPS.

Patnaik, P.B. (1965) "The Statistical Research and Development Centre, Djakarta, Indonesia (UN Special Fund Project)." Unpublished draft report prepared for the Government of Indonesia, SRDC-PBS, Jakarta, 1 April 1965.

Sarbini Sumawinata (1992) "Recollections of My Career," Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, 28, No. 2, pp. 43-53.

Van de Graaff, E.A. (1955) De Statistiek in Indonesie N [The Statistics of Indonesia]. The Hague/Bandung: Van Hoeve.

Pierre van der Eng
Australian National University