The Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has long bemoaned the lack of comprehensive data collection in the Caribbean. That United Nations agency went so far as to describe the region as “data poor”, due to our embarrassingly tepid emphasis on this important policy area.
Developing countries like ours will continue to face challenges if our policy makers are forced to make decisions based on dated, peripheral statistical data, or worse yet, craft policy based on data from other jurisdictions, simply because we have failed to collect our own.
How many years has it been, for example, that the international business sector’s contribution to the Barbados economy has been murky in some respects because of the lack of data on the impact of the sector on activity such as tourism arrivals, real estate sales and rentals?
An ECLAC paper on the region’s statistical dark holes cautioned: “The data poverty problem cannot be corrected by a series of successive marginal changes in peripheral policies. Small Island Developing States should first confront their attributes of smallness and limited trained human resources and derive paradigms to change the variables that can be changed.
“The paradigm of teamwork should take precedence over narrow ministerial or personal agendas. This would mean the creation or strengthening of capacity in the creation of information management systems. It would be difficult for a country to cross this hurdle on its own resources. This step requires deep change and should be facilitated by a resource person who can be objective in the establishment of priorities.”
Our problems with data in Barbados, for example, are not limited to the “big economic issues”. They transcends to even the way crime data is collected and disseminated. When was the last time Barbadians were afforded a detailed presentation on gender-based violence and crime against women and children, with a breakdown of critical markers such as age, sex, race, income bracket, or rural versus urban incidents?
Imagine the way policy decisions could shaped were planners armed with such information on a consistent basis.
This is an important segue to the critical matter of our island’s current unemployment numbers.
It was not too long ago that debate raged in Barbados about the where the island was sourcing its information to determine the rate of unemployment. Was it the Central Bank of Barbados or the Barbados Statistical Department? Whose figures was correct?
With the island well into the last quarter of this horrendous year, it is more than strange that Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados Cleviston Haynes delivered his third quarter review of the economy and we are none the wiser about the rate of unemployment.
We conceded that the reality of the situation on the ground does not require Mr. Haynes affirmation of its severity. Many average Barbadians are feeling the pain.
Is it enough for the Governor to simply say “Some workers are working shorter hours and layoffs persisted into the quarter as the private sector adapted to the altered economic environment. The spike in unemployment insurance claims led to over 32 000 claims being paid between late March and September.”
We contend that if urgent policy prescriptions are being designed to get Barbadians back to work such as the $400 million dollar plan for the hotel and accommodation sector or the Barbados Employment and Sustainable Transformation (BEST) programme, on what data is Government creating these policy responses?
Is it not time Governor Haynes or our three Ministers in the Ministry of Finance to inform us on the current unemployment rate? Someone has to know and would that person be so kind as to share it.
Why is it necessary? Unemployment levels for one, provide a clear indicator of the level of hardship and financial stress in a country. An unemployed person has little to spend on consumer goods, his savings are quickly depleted, he or she may have to rely on an older parent or relative whose only source of income may be a pension and all this has a dangerous ripple effect.
We know that resource constraints impact most state activities in 2020, but is the collection of data on a wide range of social and economic issues given the priority they deserve.
As the ECLAC paper General Data Challenges Facing The Caribbean points out: “The ideal situation would be for the Governments of the Caribbean to acknowledge the need for the design of integrated information architecture – which none of them has put in place up to the present time – and move towards putting it in place. This is an aspect of deep change and cannot be accomplished overnight nor can it be accomplished by a simultaneous re-engineering of all of the data producing departments of government and other allied agencies.”