Chamber calls for trustworthy stats

The Chamber of Commerce is calling for the Government to adopt a different approach to statistical collection and distribution of information.

The approach suggested would include making the Statistics Office independent of direct government control.

Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce Legislative Luncheon last Wednesday, Chamber President Angelyn Hernandez said Cayman’s Statistics Law was outdated.

‘The Cayman Islands lags behind other English speaking Caribbean countries in application of stringent regulations for statistical compliance,’ she said.

‘The private sector and government depends on sound statistics for planning purposes.’

Government also needs accurate statistics to comply with the law.

Cayman’s Public Management and Finance Law requires the Strategic Policy Statement to provide forecasts for five economic indicators, including economic growth, inflation, unemployment, employment and the current account position of the balance of payments.

Ms Hernandez pointed out that the current penalties for non-compliance of the Statistics Law in the Cayman Islands is a fine of only $200 and in the case of a continuing offence, a further $6 each day the offence continues after conviction.

‘It may be time to consider a different approach so that the Government and the private sector receive timely, relevant and trustworthy statistics,’ she said.

Ms Hernandez pointed out that the United Nations says every country should have a national statistics office, governed by a statistics law to guarantee quality and independence.

In order to bring about the needed changes, Ms Hernandez said three things were needed, the first being money.

‘Luring statisticians [to the Cayman Islands] is expensive and with work currently under way on the National Assessment of Living Conditions and planning for the next national census under way, the Economic and Statistics Office will need additional resources.’

Ms Hernandez also said statistics must be free from political interference.

‘At the moment, every statistics report must be approved by Cabinet before being disseminated… if at all,’ she said.

‘Has the time come for the Statistics Office to be completely independent from direct government control?’ she asked.

A third pre-requisite for producing trustworthy and timely statistics is obtaining the public trust, Ms Hernandez said.

‘All stakeholders must receive relevant and timely statistics as free as possible from political spin,’ she said. ‘This particularly matters once you move away from hard economic data to softer number on crime, education and social policy.’

Ms. Hernandez said the Chamber also recommended the establishment of an advisory committee to give the national statistics office direction and advice on the measures in society that matter the most to the private sector and government.

Director of the Economics and Statistics Office Maria Zingapan did not have any problems with Ms Hernandez’s speech.

‘Generally speaking [the speech was] supportive of the ESO Strategic Plan 2006-2009,’ she said. ‘In fact, the speech quoted some of the background information made available in the ESO plan.’

Ms Zingapan said that plan recognizes and intends to address gaps in the Statistical Law that could impede the quality of data that is collected, in addition to the data collection process.

The review of the Statistics Law by the Caribbean Assistance Technical Centre made several recommendations to improve certain aspects of the Law and make it compliant with the UN’s fundamental principles of official statistics, she said.

Ms Zingapan said one of those recommendations included defining and delineating the functions of each actor in the statistical system.

Other recommendations included expanding the list of census and other statistics covered by the Law and securing data confidentially and imposing higher penalties for non-compliance.

‘Ms. Hernandez’ speech also affirmed the ESO plan’s assessment of how the Cayman Islands compares with the other Caribbean countries,’ she said.

The ESO plan notes that Anguilla and Bermuda have more recent Statistics Laws that impose stiffer penalties for disclosure and non-compliance.

With regard to funding, Ms Zingapan said the ESO was getting more.

‘The Cabinet has approved the budget for expanding the statistical staff that would allow ESO to move towards international standards over the medium-term (2007-2009),’ she said.

Ms Zingapan also noted that the establishment of an advisory committee as suggested by Ms Hernandez was also part of the ESO strategic plan.

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