Special note should be taken of Finance Minister Colm Imbert’s acknowledgement, in an address at an EU-UNCDF-OACP workshop earlier this week, of the importance of accurate, up-to-date and easily accessible data.
Mr Imbert called for filling gaps in data availability and underscored the need to “understand what the factual issues are so that we can design an appropriate solution.”
The session at which the minister spoke focused specifically on Advancing the Digital Payment and Financial Inclusion Agenda and his call for more accurate and timely data was made in the context of bolstering T&T’s quest to be a regional leader in the transformation of digital finance and the financial sector.
But his comments can also be viewed more broadly, given the importance of statistics to all areas of national development. It also raises questions about the slow pace of the Central Statistical Office’s (CSO) transition to the National Statistical Institute of T&T (NSITT).
T&T is now in the seventh year of that process with no clear timelines for when the much-needed NSITT will materialise.
This issue does not fall directly under the purview of Minister Imbert, but as a senior Cabinet member, he should have more than passing knowledge of such a critical exercise.
In the 2015 General Election, one of the key People’s National Movement (PNM) manifesto promises was the creation of an independent statistical institute.
After taking office, the move toward the NSITT fell to Camille Robinson-Regis as Planning Minister. In 2018, she introduced the National Statistical Institute of Trinidad and Tobago Bill in the House of Representatives, highlighting the importance of national statistical offices for strong governance systems.
That was in June 2018. On February 1, 2019, the Bill was referred to a Joint Select Committee (JSC) and there was an undertaking that a report would be submitted by March 31, 2019. The Planning Minister was appointed chair of that JSC.
Since then, however, the legislation has been in limbo. The JSC met seven times between February and March 2019 and produced an interim report but has made almost no progress since then.
Although granted a two-month extension to May 31, 2019, the JSC failed to meet that deadline and also failed to deliver after being given a further extension to September 27, 2019.
At present, the status of the Bill is unknown and many of the parliamentarians who served on that JSC are no longer serving in either the Senate or the House. Little is also being said about transforming the CSO to the long-promised NSITT.
However, since Mr Imbert has again raised the matter of the importance of statistical information, it is time to let citizens know why T&T is still saddled with a statistical institute that has long outlived its usefulness.
The CSO operates under legislation that is more than 40 years old. Why is it taking so long to complete the transition to the NSITT?
Mr Imbert is quite right when he underscores the importance of accurate, up-to-date, easily accessible data. The question is, when will the Government, of which he is a senior member, make that a reality in T&T?