SEAN O'BRIEN, head statistician at the Central Statistical Office, says there are limitations his unit faces in collecting and disseminating statistics on a national scale, given the disconnect between the CSO and government ministries and agencies.
"We must ask ourselves: ‘Is the CSO really fulfilling this mandate?’ And I, as the chief statistician of TT, I can tell you, no, not really," O'Brien told an audience at Kapok Hotel, Port of Spain, last week.
O'Brien was a speaker at an event hosted by the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to release its preliminary findings, after a two-month survey on the multiple roles of six protected forested areas in the welfare and livelihood of households living in or around them.
O'Brien said he also welcomed the CSO's pending overhaul, which will result in its being renamed the National Statistical Institute (NSITT).
Currently, the CSO depends on a central statistical system to gather, process and disseminate data in accordance with official statistical international standards.
"In other words," O'Brien explained, "we at the CSO cannot provide the government with educational statistics unless we have assistance from the Ministry of Education. We cannot provide health statistics in the absence of the Ministry of Health."
A co-ordinated effort by all arms of the process, he said, is sorely lacking, partly because of an outdated act governing agricultural censuses.
"These ministries, agencies, and departments institute what is known as a national statistical system. And the literature dictates the NSO, or the CSO in the case of TT, should be the co-ordinating body so as to compel and comply on behalf of these ministries, agencies and departments.
"At present, the CSO is governed by an act (Statistics Act) that was last updated in 1982. What this means is that the CSO does not have the legislative potency...to co-ordinate and compel compliance from the rest of the national statistical system."
Because of this, O'Brien said, considerable amounts of data are not provided to the CSO in the first place.
"A large part of my job is to be taking blame for not supplying data that I don’t get in the first place,” he said, shifting focus to the solution, which is in the planning stages.
"The government has responded to this anomaly by bringing about what is to be known as the National Statistical Institute of TT or NSITT," O'Brien said.
"The CSO is to be transformed into the NSITT, which is envisioned to be more legislatively potent, a more autonomous, more independent body that would have the power to more effectively co-ordinate the national statistical system."
The Statistics Bill was introduced in the House of Representatives by the Minister of Planning and Development Camille Robinson-Regis on June 20, 2018. The legislation is currently before a joint select committee, which is due to report back to Parliament by December 31.