Region's statisticians stress harmonisation of procedures
- population, housing census mooted for Guyana next year

Stabroek News
January 15, 2000

By William Walker There was 100% agreement that the harmonisation of statistical practices was needed to allow for accurate comparisons between countries in the region, when the Twenty-Fourth Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians convened at the CARICOM Secretariat, Georgetown this week.

The committee which consists of regional bureaus and interested parties also discussed preparations for the 2000 round of population and housing censuses which will be held this year in Trinidad, Barbados and Belize.

Guyana's Chief Statistician, Lennox Benjamin, said at the post- meeting press conference on Thursday that he would be recommending to the government that a population and housing census be carried out in the year 2001, but he did advise against conducting such an important exercise in the same year as elections. The last census done in Guyana was in 1991 (at a cost of $27 million) and he said that it was preferable for them to be performed every ten years. However, it was noted that international funds to carry out a census which is extremely costly are not as forthcoming as before. All of the participants stressed the importance of statistics for policy makers and for a wide cross-section of society such as aid organisations and the private sector. Benjamin noted that banks in Guyana that have expanded countrywide used statistics to inform their decisions.

Increasingly, international funding agencies are requiring the standardisation of governmental accounting practices to measure developing countries' performances. This would also allow the countries involved to ascertain their progress within the region. Director of Statistics for Trinidad and Tobago, Matthew Ramsaroop, noted that in the area of trade, the region's bureaus were standardising their measurements.

Director of Statistics for St Lucia, Edwin St Catherine made the point that more than any other discipline, statistics depended on harmonisation and comparability, notwithstanding the need to custom-made surveys depending on the country involved. This could mean varied interpretations of unemployment for example.

Director for Censuses at the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, Valerie Nam, lamented that her profession was rather thankless in that many times statistics fly in the face of the man-in-the-street opinion. She cited a recent poverty survey her bureau conducted, which concluded that poverty was decreasing in Jamaica. This caused a controversy as the public perception was that things were getting worse. She said that ultimately the matter had hinged on differing definitions of poverty.

All members of the panel agreed that their misinterpretation, primarily by politicians, was what gave statistics a bad reputation. But they acknowledged that while it was an imperfect science, it was a valuable tool to guide social policy such as expected needs for new schools or the impact of poverty alleviation programmes.

The numeration of migration patterns was something that the panel considered particularly difficult despite its importance to the region. Nam said that because many people left their countries permanently on tourist visas, and others came and went on permanent documents it was hard to ascertain exact flows save for records of incoming and outgoing passengers. However, during household surveys, she said, it was possible to put in questions that would give a picture of how migration affects an economy.

Other initiatives from the meeting included the attachment of data compilers within the region to countries doing censuses in 2000 so as to gain experience for their own country's exercise.

A commitment was also made to award scholarships for statistical courses at the University of the West Indies and funds will be pursued for this purpose.

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Guyana: Land of Six Peoples