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REMARKS DELIVERED BY DR. PHILOMEN HARRISON, PROGRAMME MANAGER, STATISTICS, CARICOM SECRETARIAT, AT OPENING OF THE REGIONAL STATISTICAL WORKSHOP, 4 APRIL 2005, GEORGETOWN, GUYANA

On behalf of the CARICOM Secretariat, let me welcome you to this CARICOM Workshop on “Strengthening Capacity of Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems in CARICOM Member States- Focusing on the Improvement of Statistics on Fertility and Mortality.”

For those who are visiting from outside Guyana, I would also like to welcome you to Guyana, the location of the headquarters of the Secretariat.

This workshop has been made possible through the financial support of the World Bank-Trust Fund for Statistical Capacity Building (TFSCB), which has financed the participants from World Bank Borrowing Member Countries of the CARICOM Region under a Project, which was activated around April 2004. We also received financial support from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) under a Project geared to build capacity for the collection of Social Data for Poverty Reduction strategies and for the Monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals in Member States.

In addition, we obtained technical assistance from a number of organisations to facilitate the workshop – the United Nations Statistics Division (UNSD), New York – Srdjan Mrkyc, Ag. Chief of the Demographic Section, at the UNSD; Carlos Ellis, Advisor Population Data, the United Nations Population Fund- Country Support Team (CST), Mexico, and also Margaret Hazlewood, Technical Advisor, International Health Classifications from Pan American Health Office (PAHO), Washington. We would like to express appreciation to these organizations for their support to this activity.

The overall context of this workshop is located in the movement towards the goal of creating a single economic space in the Region, through the establishment of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) as a mechanism through which the Region can experience sustained economic and social development. In this developmental context, the status of the health and well being of our population are critical goals to be achieved, on the one hand as an enabling factor of development and on the other hand as a reflection that we have achieved development through the development of our human resource with equity.

Other concerns at the national, Regional and international levels that signify the importance of this workshop include: – Monitoring of the Millennium Development Goals that our Member States are committed to achieve by set timelines; -The HIV-AIDS pandemic; – the situation with respect to the new trading arrangements of our sugar and bananas with the EU as it affects the livelihood of our communities

All of these imperatives require varied and inter-sectoral policy responses and monitoring and evaluation, which in turn require that we produce accurate, reliable and timely statistics.

Our focus this week on the strengthening of the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems is part of a wider programme of strengthening capacity to produce Social/Gender and Environment Statistics in the Region, to inform policy responses and to monitor and evaluate development outcomes. In fact, the Secretariat has taken steps to provide a more comprehensive framework for the production of Regional statistics in all areas, including the one under discussion this week. In January at the 15th Meeting of the Community Council of Ministers, a Statistical Programme for the Region and a resolution calling on governments to invest more in Statistics were approved.

Essentially our approach to the development of Social Statistics at the Secretariat can be paraphrased as “building capacity through enhancing coordination and collaboration” at the national level. In this context, the Secretariat has invested efforts with the financial support of the UNDP and the World Bank in laying the foundation for statistical coordination and collaboration in Member States through the establishment of Social Indicators and Millennium Developmental Goals Committees- SIMDG Committees.

This approach recognises the need to develop the national statistical systems and the vital role of getting agencies to network at the national and Regional levels to identify problems and issues and to learn from one another as producers as well as to encourage the use of the outputs in policy formation. There is a central role for the statisticians in this regard. This workshop is therefore following this approach of getting together the major stakeholders engaged in the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems.

It is our hope that this interaction will achieve positive gains in enabling the availability and flow of information at the various levels, as well as enhancing the quality, timeliness and comparability of the outputs. Therefore the objectives of the meeting include:

    – The strengthening of capacity to operate, manage and maintain Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems;

    – Enhancement of the understanding of the principles, concepts and procedures recommended internationally;

    – Promotion of harmonisation and the national level internally and across Member States as it can impact on better quality and comparable data;

    – Provision of a forum for the exchange of experience;

    – Informing of the critical and fundamental uses of the statistics that are derived from these systems; and,

    – Preparation of recommendations and an action plan which will encourage us to look beyond the workshop to what can be done in the short, medium and long term to improve the systems and what in general you can do to strengthen and sustain the systems beyond this workshop.

It is important therefore to focus on what are the uses of the outputs of both systems to our Community, be it the provision of legal documents to prove one's identity/nationality, to inform actions to be taken in health and education programmes, as critical inputs into population research and analysis, and of course in the political and electoral processes. Therefore, a fundamental need exists for us to always focus on why are we doing what are we doing and therefore why we need to institute sustained improvement in the systems particularly at the input stages.

It is our intention that the workshop is participatory since we would like to hear from you the problems, issues, weaknesses, strengths and practices that can inform the recommendations and the action plan.

Finally, this workshop is just one mechanism that can bring about systemic improvement in the Civil Registration and Vital Statistics Systems. What we require is sustained follow-up, networking beyond the workshop, advocacy and sensitisation and the engaging of heads of departments in encounters to gain their commitment and to help us work better together.

It is therefore only the beginning. I would like to close by once again expressing our appreciation to all the organisations represented here and to hope that the workshop is conducted in the true spirit of tolerance for one another. We have a tight schedule and I cannot guarantee that you can see much of this beautiful country.

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