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Connecting the World with Data we can Trust: Remarks – CCS Director of Statistics

OPENING REMARKS

Forty-fifth Meeting of the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians (45th SCCS) 

(2-3 November 2020)

Thirty-Third Meeting of the Regional Census Coordinating Committee (33rd RCCC)

(4 November 2020)

Dr Philomen Harrison, Project Director, Regional Statistics, CARICOM Secretariat

It is an honour for me to greet you on the occasion of the Forty-Fifth  Meeting of the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians (45th SCCS) and the Thirty-Third Meeting of the Regional Census Coordinating Committee (32nd  RCCC) These meetings were  preceded by the Twenty-Seventh Meeting of the CARICOM Advisory Group on Statistics, the AGS, which works in between the SCCS to advance and monitor the implementation of decisions of the SCCS.   This year due to the overload of seminars we would not be having the usual Regional Statistical Research Seminar but we hope to return to this activity for the next SCCS.

 As is customary when there is a joint commemoration of Caribbean Statistics Day (which was observed for the Twelfth occasion this year) and the observance of World Statistics Day, the theme for World Statistics Day is utilised for the Caribbean Statistics Day commemoration as well as for the annual meetings. This year the theme for the series of meetings is therefore, “Connecting the World with Data we can Trust”.

 Colleagues, countries world over including those of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) are experiencing perilous times with the onslaught of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, that is causing loss of lives, loss of livelihoods, health issues now and possibly future health issues for  those that have survived this disease.

 Statistics as a science of learning from data, is at the forefront of the fight to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic.  Specifically, in our Region the data being derived from the Ministries of Health, whose statistical units should form part of the National Statistical Systems in many countries, are at the forefront of tracking the pandemic with the data on Confirmed Cases, Daily New cases. Deaths, Number of Recoveries, Number of Active cases, Number of Tests Conducted being used to provide the decision-makers with the request for information to combat the coronavirus disease.

 Some national statistical offices, NSOs, are also undertaking special surveys on behalf of their governments on issues related to the impact of the COVID-19 including through the inclusion of questions in existing household surveys or in special standalone surveys.

NSOs, have also made adjustments relative to the conduct of surveys that they would normally do face-face- including use of telephones supported by interviewers equipped with Personal Protective Equipment – of course there is the issue of some households not trusting the interviewers to enter the premises relative to the COVID-19.

One area that has been a casualty of the COVID-19 is the Population and Housing Census exercises that normally commence in the year starting with zero, have had to be postponed in all countries that had planned to go into the field this year, impacted not only by the coronavirus but also by budgetary concerns due to the economic impact on countries

 NSOs are also able to contribute to the evaluation of the impact of the measures that have been put in place to mitigate transmission of the virus. Countries that are producing High Frequency Indicators such as Quarterly GDP are able to provide information as to how the economy is doing by comparing the quarterly data for 2020 with the similar quarter for 2019 to get an idea of the slowdown of the growth in the economy.

For example, in the Member State of Jamaica, comparing the  Second Quarter GDP  2020  with the same quarter in 2019 shows that there was a decline of 18.4 % percent in GDP during these quarters.  It further shows that Services fell by 18.6% with a decline of 85.6 % in Hotels and Restaurant.

 In this era of COVID-19, the value of this information on   Quarterly GDP and on  Quarterly Labour Force Statistics can provide early warning signals as to changes in the economy, unemployment and other such variables.

Therefore, Statistics as a science must be given the recognition it deserves as a critical element in guiding development. It is difficult to imagine a policy-maker formulating a policy without recourse to statistics.

This recognition of the value of statistics must not only be words but should lead to the provision of adequate human, financial and IT resources, specifically core staffing resources, not temporary project staffing, that are required to collect and compile and disseminate high quality statistics to enable insights into the economic status of countries and the economic and social well-being of the citizens of CARICOM.

While project support by International Development partners will assist in helping countries produce relevant, timely and reliable statistics, investment on a sustained   basis by governments to build and strengthen the NSOs is required to sustain the support obtained from the IDPs- else  it will be as our colleagues from PARIS21 normally state, a vicious circle. in that the data production cycle will disintegrate once the technical assistance comes to an end.

There must be no pretence. Decisions on the levels of staffing and other resources that are required must be arrived at in a scientific manner not by  what someone thinks should be the number of staff required but it has to be based on the statistics that are required to be produced,  what it takes to produce these statistics in terms of data collection, follow-up and reminders, data validation , application of quality assurance throughout the processes, data processing,  data dissemination and analysis and particularly at the regional level the core activities of harmonisation of statistics and od building capacity  so that the data produced across countries are comparable.  I focus strongly on these issue since adequate investment is at the heart of providing accurate, timely and reliable statistics.

 This issue of what it takes to produce high quality statistics, be it at the national level or at the regional level, cannot be based on whims or beliefs but on facts, on data.

In this regard the endorsement of the CARICOM Regional Strategy for the Development of Statistics (RSDS) must not remain a dream.

Efforts must be put in place by the relevant authorities to improve the range, quality, relevance and timeliness of the data produced and disseminated, to ensure internal harmonisation within country, as well as conformity to Regional and international standard.

Efforts must also be made to encourage the use of data by policy-makers, researchers, students and others had to be pursued if there was to be impact on the lives of the people of the Community. These were some of the ideals embedded in the SCCS when it was established by the highest levels of the Community way back in 1974.

 As I said on a previous occasion, in addressing the SCCS, there is need for governments of the region notwithstanding the scarcity of resources, to pursue a much more vibrant regional and national statistical  agenda  with the support of the IDPs not with the lead of the IDPs.

Fundamentally, the case for having well-resourced CARICOM Statistical Systems- National Statistical Offices, the Other Producing Agencies and the regional office at the Secretariat is better understood in the era of the COVID-19 as countries have to plan for the pursuit of economic recovery. How can this be done without data?   Evidently it will be like shooting arrows in the dark.

I urge the Directors of Statistics/Chief Statisticians to continue to advocate not just during the Caribbean Statistics Day commemoration but on other occasions for sustained investment in statistics. 

In closing, I would like to recognise those Chief Statisticians/ Directors of Statistics or Ag that are representing their countries for the first time at the SCCS and supporting meetings in this lead position. These are Ms Dianna Trejo-Castillo of Belize, Ms Maxine Bentt of Guyana, Ms Lavorne Williams of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Mr Andre Blanchard of Trinidad and Tobago.

Evidently, the current remote arrangements prevent us from meeting face-to face lessening the depth of exchange of ideas, the sharing of experiences/lessons learnt.  We just have to make the most of this current situation until such time as the SCCS can return to its ideal state where we can learn and exchange and grow in an atmosphere of respect for one another’s points of view and, mutual trust and friendship that have been pervasive in the SCCS over the years. Nonetheless, here is hoping for productive sessions at this 45th SCCS

I thank you

Philomen Harrison (PhD)

Project Director, Regional Statistics

Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat

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