For the first time since its establishment in 1957, Guyana’s Bureau of Statistics has moved into its own dedicated building – the former Customs House on Main Street. In his address to the gathering on the commissioning of the Bureau’s new headquarters, President David Granger charged the Bureau to produce statistics “which will remove anecdotal and emotive influences from the decision-making process.” This was reported on the Ministry of the Presidency’s website.
In his address, Minister of Finance, Winston Jordan said, “Statistical data represent a key input in macroeconomic policy-making; they are the indicators of the performance of the economy; they are [the] basis for the adoption of current decisions and they underline the projections for future developments. Therefore, their quality, impartiality and timeliness are crucial for the successful functioning of the economy of any country.”
It is indeed good to see the Bureau being settled in its own headquarters as a first step to its “modernisation and transformation” to quote Minister Jordan. Accurate, up to date, well organized, and easily accessible statistical data form the basis of good decision-making for governments, businesses, and every organized endeavour, as the Minister mentioned. It therefore makes absolute sense for the government to direct adequate resources towards ensuring that the dispenser of national statistical data and analyses is adequately staffed and equipped to deliver high quality output.
In so far as statistics are outdated, inaccurate, inadequate, or inaccessible, decision-making at the government level is seriously hampered, and equally at risk is the ability of the public and the press to adequately challenge any suspected misrepresentations. In his presentation on the 2017 Budget, Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin acknowledged that the Bureau needed to be properly resourced, and that data were not always available for the decision-making process, noting that, “Guyana is at a stage where decision-making is informed by data,” according to a Gina report.
But the revamping of the data collection, analysis and dissemination environment in Guyana certainly cannot be limited to just the Bureau of Statistics alone. Other entities like the Guyana Police Force and the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation and their respective ministries should have internal systems that continuously churn out up-to-date information and analyses, firstly for their own use in the strategic planning process, and secondly, for public dissemination and particularly for easy access by the press.
For example, as much as the Guyana Police Force has made some strides in producing statistics on traffic and criminal matters, there still remains much to be done before the information can be useful to the Force in grappling with road accidents and violent crimes which have both been responsible for significant loss of life in Guyana over the years. Any attempted analyses on these matters, for instance, in trying to determine cause and effect, can fail or fall short because of the unavailability of (reliable) data, or the resulting need to rely on anecdotal evidence to fill the data void.
In the example of the Guyana Police Force, categorising data into geographical, gender, age groups, etc, could also help to paint a more accurate picture and provide a better understanding of the figures. Tabulations, charts and comparative period presentations all help to bring more life and meaning to the data being presented.
The Bureau of Statistics has as its purpose “to collect, compile, analyse, abstract and publish statistical information relating to the social, agriculture, mining, commercial, industrial and general activities of the inhabitants of Guyana,” and this process of “collecting, compiling, analysing, abstracting and publishing” is common to every agency, department or individual tasked as a statistician or group of statisticians.
But when we consider the role that national statistics, and statistics at the level of every major government organization and agency should be playing in the development of this country, it must be assumed that our national strategic planning functions have not been benefiting from the best possible statistical information and analyses for many years now. In this regard, the Granger government must be praised for making this first step in giving the Bureau its own physical space, but it must also be tasked with pushing for greater efficiency from the Bureau while making the necessary resources available for its proper functioning.
At the moment when we want to see information on Guyana’s key economic indicators, the World Bank website serves up a much more palatable dish of data, charts and analyses than the Bureau of Statistics’ own website, which does not present easily viewable information.
In this technological age, there should be set standards of minimum disclosure for all social sector, economic sector and financial sector entities and all this information should be published online and kept up to date. Statistics is a necessary tool for strategic planning and fostering development, and within reason all stakeholders should have access to the various social, economic, finance, health, and other statistical data that should be in the public arena, as this levels the playing field and increases efficiency all around.
Investors, local and overseas, are more confident in doing business in an environment where access to statistical information on issues like national production, employment, crime, and health are readily available, up to date and trustworthy.
Despite the fact that politicians sometimes misuse statistics in an attempt to add fluff to their weak presentations, as reflected in the saying, “lies, damned lies and statistics,” we must not fail to recognise that a great hindrance to Guyana’s development, and to the ability of the “fourth estate” to hold politicians and others accountable, is often due to the unavailability of adequate statistical data.