Editorial for July 29: The numbers game: Cayman's need for quality data

Cabinet Minister Wayne Panton is correct to stress the importance of lawmakers getting accurate data from government agencies.

After all, legislators cannot make reasoned policy decisions if they aren’t presented with reliable information reflecting current conditions. How can anyone, quite frankly, be expected to set the proper course for a desired destination if one does not know from where they begin? It’s simple; they can’t.

Last week, Mr. Panton, who has Cabinet responsibility for the financial services industry – one of the territory’s two heavyweight economic pillars – broached the topic of public sector statistical reporting during an appearance on talk radio when he emphasised the significance of accurate numbers in fashioning appropriate employment policy. He lamented the challenges facing out-of-work Caymanians and said the administration in which he plays an integral part considers growing the pool of employment opportunities for natives to be of the utmost importance. And while we most certainly would disagree with government’s intrusive meddling in hiring practices of private sector employers or the establishment of additional burdensome regulations, Mr. Panton is correct in suggesting government plays a prominent role in setting public policy geared toward lessening the number of unemployed Caymanians. 

The groundwork for such policy begins with sound information.

It goes without saying that statistics are important tools to help us find ways to improve upon what we do. Numbers – and numeracy – inform us why some things work better than others by showing us when they work, how they work, and what elements in them work best. Excel spreadsheets, populated with accurate data, are essential tools in all business analyses.  

However, statistics are highly dependent on the skills of the individual compiling them. This is equally true for government statistics where outcomes can mean millions of dollars in public sector spending to fund everything under the sun.

We have long looked with a sceptical eye upon the completeness of the data gathered by the Economics and Statistics Office and other government agencies. And we have often taken vows from lawmakers espousing the implementation of sound public policy with the proverbial grain of salt when the legislation’s roots are so firmly entrenched in suspect and, often times, out-of-date data.

If this administration is, in fact, having second thoughts about the accuracy of the data it is receiving from public bodies, then it is well within its authority to make changes. But it would be wise to get going quickly because the wheels of government move slowly, and there is no time like the present to begin tackling whatever bureaucracy impedes achievable ends. Too much is at stake to allow inertia to rule the day or for the logic behind government policy making to be crafted by less-than-educated guessing.