“A data revolution for sustainable development, with a new international initiative to improve the quality of statistics and information available to citizens” is the theme for a CARICOM High Level Forum on Statistics, which opened on Monday at the Radisson Hotel.
Bringing together governments and other statistical institutions within CARICOM, the forum is part of a number of activities aimed to show the role of statistical information in the development of the region, as citizens and government prepare to embrace the various opportunities that can be realised through statistics.
Statistics fall under the supervision of the Ministry of Finance. Finance Minister, Prime Minister Dr Keith Mitchell told the forum participants that statistics ought to be seen as the voice of the people.
“Development is about empowering our citizens, whether it is through education and skills development or healthcare. It is also through statistics that we inform about their reality and results of actions taken by the people or by government,” he said, explaining that statistics are not only important for policymakers, but also for providing information to the citizens of our region.
“Our citizens require appropriate statistics to hold their governments and all serious stakeholders, accountable. Therefore, the role of statistics in development is not only for our governments to monitor, but also to drive the development outcomes that statistics measure through the voices of the people of our region.”
Dr Mitchell said that every regional territory is faced with tremendous and quite similar challenges. It is therefore difficult to address these challenges effectively if governments cannot measure their magnitudes accurately. Sharing an example of how accurate statistics are important, he said that in our region, talk shows through the various outlets have become a dominant medium for public information – and many times, misinformation – often generating more heat than light.
“It is said that there are two kinds of statistics, the kind you look up and the kind you make up. I am afraid there is too much “making up” of statistics on talk shows around our region. We must change that,” he said. “Given this reality, we must develop and timely disseminate information products which our citizens can consume, and in the process become more enlightened and empowered to play their specific role in nation building.
Mitchell also believes that statistical development requires a regional approach at a time of unprecedented economic challenges. With very limited and stretched public resources, and dwindling grant resources, the necessity for evidence-based policy making is crucial – every development dollar must count.
“None must be wasted. Governments and citizens alike need relevant and timely information on which to make decisions. It is clear, even with the best intentions, that national statistical systems are currently not meeting these challenges. Consequently, we must invest in regional approaches that help to optimise our scarce public resources,” he said.
In our region, the free movement of people, and of minds, has to be encouraged and entrenched in the sharing of best practices, as we confront the enormous challenges we face. Statistical development should not be static or isolated within individual countries because the development of statistics is essential to regional and national advancement.
The main objective of the forum is to enable high-level commitment by governments of CARICOM to the strengthening of the national statistical systems as a key means of sustaining the development and availability of timely, high quality and relevant statistics for decision-making, and for the empowerment of citizens of our entire region.
By Linda Straker