Keynote Address By The Prime Minister At UN World Data Forum

PR – It is my pleasure to address this forum on a subject that is very close to my heart. I thank the United Nations for this invitation to participate in this important meeting as we navigate our way through the turbulence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Having a general passion for statistics and as the Lead Head for Science and Technology, including ICT in the CARICOM Quasi Cabinet, and the CARICOM Champion for Official Statistics, I can certainly appreciate the issues that confront statisticians in this current environment, especially those in Small Island Developing States (SIDS) like my country, Grenada.

Ideally, my legacy for statistics will be for governments to give this subject the attention it deserves, through the transformation and modernisation of our statistical landscape to enable responsiveness of National Statistical Offices to the ever-increasing and ever-changing demands for scientific data.  It is likely that regional economies, though small in size, could have been far more advanced, had we ensured adequate investment in statistical systems to facilitate more effective decision-making. This absence of reliable data becomes even more critical now, as some countries are unable to measure the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Building resilience is now a key development watchword that is equally important as we manoeuvre this global health crisis. Although COVID-19 presents a new and formidable challenge, CARICOM SIDS have had to contend with many crises including the ravaging effects of hurricanes, made more powerful by the impact of climate change. COVID-19, like some of these natural hazards, poses a major threat to the survival of some of our key economic sectors such as tourism.

Up until the imposition of national lockdown to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19, Grenada was projected to record another year of significant growth. Our country now faces declining government revenues, high unemployment triggered by pandemic related layoffs and increasing expenditure to finance the national COVID-19 response and stimulus package benefits for those most affected. This scenario is replicated in most, if not all Caribbean countries. To successfully create the strategies necessary to effect recovery and foster renewed economic growth and development, high-quality data is a development imperative.  

I am optimistic that there is great hope for statistics development in our CARICOM region. It was an honour for me to influence the creation of a statistics master plan, which was unanimously endorsed by my fellow CARICOM leaders. This master plan, the CARICOM Regional Strategy for the Development of Statistics (the RSDS) emphasises the importance of reliable statistics as the gateway to building resilience in the CARICOM region and achieving sustainable development through sound and trusted data.

The COVID-19 pandemic has elevated the visibility of statistics. Not only has it exposed the enormous data gaps especially within the National Statistical Systems of SIDS, but it also provides a unique opportunity for us to further advocate the importance of statistics in combatting this pandemic. Herein lies an opportunity for us to advance the CARICOM RSDS. Through its implementation and financing, the region’s statistical systems will thrive even during periods of crisis.

We call on our international development partners and the private sector to support the implementation of the overarching CARICOM RSDS and the corresponding national strategies in SIDS, to optimise statistical outcomes. In this regard, international support for the Resource Mobilisation Strategy, one of the accompanying frameworks of the RSDS, agreed to by Heads of Government, will help secure better development outcomes in CARICOM SIDS, including reporting on the Sustainable Development Goals.

Here in Grenada, despite the challenges brought on by the national lockdown and the accompanying work from home policies, the Central Statistical Office used remote platforms to conduct most of its activities, pursue initiatives and utilise the wealth of opportunities for training and development. Not surprisingly therefore, this has been one of the busiest years for statistics in Grenada.

My government’s unwavering commitment to implement a system of continuous labour force surveys resulted in the transition to Computer Assisted Personal Interviewing to collect data for the 2nd Quarter Labour Force Survey via telephone interviews.

I must underscore here, the Population and Housing Census since it is the most important source of scientific data about the people and on the housing stock of any country. In fact, for many SIDS, it is the only source of reliable data that covers essential characteristics about the population and it also informs the SDG indicators. The census also provides a robust source of statistics for the work of the national statistical systems, being used as benchmarks, for household survey programmes and when coupled with Geographic Information Systems, it provides a rich source of geospatial information for solving development challenges and crises brought on by natural disasters.

CARICOM countries scheduled to undertake their census in 2020 were forced to reschedule due in part to the pandemic and the budgetary constraints that have arisen because of additional pandemic related expenditure.  I appeal here to the international community, to support the census in these vulnerable countries.  

At this juncture, I urge us all to seize the opportunities that lie within the challenges, reshape our thinking and become more creative and innovative. Statistics is often recognised as the voice of the people, but we cannot continue to effectively plan for our people if we have not assessed their abilities and vulnerabilities.

In conclusion, I must emphasise that during any crisis, citizens, governments and businesses need evidence quickly to make critical decisions that can effectively manage the pandemic, save lives and restore livelihoods. Hence innovation, resilience and international development cooperation are crucial more than ever, in ensuring that official statistics not only continue to thrive, but that they are relevant in addressing the information needs during this period.

I thank you and I wish you a constructive discourse on this important topic.