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Tuesday 12 December 2017
News

Statistical Institute on track for 2018 unveiling

Legislation for the new National Statistical Institute is set to be presented for debate in Parliament in the new term, Planning Minister Camille Robinson- Regis has said.

Responding to queries from Business Day, Robinson-Regis said the Government had made “significant headway” and the committee established to ensure its implementation chaired by Dr John Prince has completed its recommendations, which have been accepted by the Cabinet.

The Planning Minister said the legislation has been drafted and is before the Chief Parliamentary Counsel for finalisation before being laid in Parliament. The committee has a mandate to complete implementation by the first quarter of 2018.

Accurate, recent and relevant data is important to help institutions track trends, make forecasts and improve efficiency, streamlining policy development though a logical, evidence-based approach.

Should the National Statistical Institute be inaugurated according to that timeline, it will hopefully mean a revolution in Trinidad and Tobago’s (TT) data collection and publication system, something that has been promised in at least three previous National Budget readings. The current entity, the Central Statistical Office (CSO), has often faced criticism for providing late data, thus complicating efficient economic forecasting.

The CSO is the only official source of national data, and these shortcomings were painfully obvious when in his Fiscal 2017 Budget, Finance Minister Colm Imbert admitted as much, noting that the Gross Domestic Product figures he quotes were “provisional” because the CSO had made revisions to the national accounts and had not yet submitted their final tallies.

“However, according to our practice at this time, whatever some may think of the accuracy of its statistics, the CSO is the only official source for national accounts data and thus CSO’s estimate will be used until the new Statistical Institute is established or the CSO makes further adjustments,” Imbert had then said.

Later in his speech, he noted again the “complaints of the unavailability of up to date and accurate statistical data in Trinidad and Tobago,” a matter he acknowledged had attracted the attention of the international ratings agencies.

The inadequacies of the CSO’s economic data have been long chronicled—most recently, a report by international ratings agency, Moody’s, cited the lack of timely macroeconomic data and weak policy execution as limiting the effectiveness of the country’s response to the decline in energy prices.

In an Independence Day editorial, Newsday implored the government to start making a concerted effort to using data as a foundation for making decisions that “reflect creativity, sensitivity and provide solutions to the country’s fiscal and development problems.” The gap in reporting unemployment figures, for example, shows the difficulty in predicting trends and crafting policy based on late data. The latest unemployment statistics for TT are from the third quarter of 2016 — nearly one year old. In the United States, by contrast, job figures are released every month.

But it’s not just with economic data that the CSO is failing the nation — key indicators across sectors haven’t been updated in nearly a decade.

Some of the latest healthcare data, for example, from infant mortality rates, maternal mortality rates, and deaths from infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS are from January 2008.

The number of vehicles on the road was last updated in January 2010; with over 1,000 cars being sold nearly every month since then according to Central Bank data, citizens stuck in traffic for hours during their daily commutes would likely want to challenge the CSO’s 518,831 figure.

In an article published in May, The Economist magazine contended that “the world’s most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data.” The idea, according the article, was that the abundance of data changes the nature of competition. “With data, there are extra network effects. By collecting more data, a firm has more scope to improve its products, which attracts more users, generating even more data…” Trinidad and Tobago has one of the world’s oldest hydrocarbon industries in the world, embracing its first-adopter status. Now it has fallen behind, unable, and it sometimes seems, unwilling to move away from its glorious petroleum past.

As the world moves towards more data-oriented analysis to increase competitive advantage, it seems TT’s myopic dependence on the hydrocarbon sector, which continues to suffer from slumping prices, has been hampering the country’s progress in a more insidious way than imagined.

Hopefully the National Statistical Institute gets here fast, because the country has a lot of catching up to do.

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