Bureau of Statistics … keeping count of the things that matter
By Crystal Conway
At the end of August 2010, Guyanese residents had a total of G$223,342.7 Billion in deposits in our banking system – Source: Bank of Guyana
That was one of the more quirky facts collected by the Bureau of Statistics on display at an exhibition held at the Agency’s High Street Office yesterday. On October 15, the Bureau marked Caribbean Statistics Day and today, will mark World Statistics Day. To celebrate both, the Bureau has arranged a week of activities between the two days.
The exhibition is one of those activities, and according to one staffer, the intention of all the activities is to raise national awareness of the importance of Statistics in everyday life.
So just what is the importance of the information the Bureau gathers?
Statistician with the Bureau, Mfon Akpan, weighed in on that point. He pointed out that accurate statistical information is very important in the decision-making process. If our leaders need to decide where to put a new hospital, they weigh demographic information to assess where the hospital will do the most good for the most people. When that hospital is up and running, they will use the information recorded on births, deaths, illnesses and other indicators to make policy decisions therein.
He noted that the need for accurate statistical information crosses into every field and is not simply confined to policy making. Business people need it to know where to make their investments, retailers need accurate information to know where the market lies and the list goes on.
The exhibition yesterday was filled with interesting information on the work done by the Bureau, it included expected information and a few surprises too. For instance, most people know that the Bureau of Statistics will collect and compile data for each Population Census. Therefore demographic data is an absolute must – population, births, deaths, arrivals and departures (migration).
But what of the Guyana System of National Accounts that charts the economic pulse of the country by collecting data and examining a number of economic indicators up to and including inflation rates? What of the Trade and Price Indices?
These are where the Bureau compiles information on most of the major commodities traded and sold as well as imports and exports in the country. Which is why the Bureau can say that in 2009, Guyanese consumed 41.6656 million litres of locally produced carbonated beverages and that for the first half of this year alone, we produced some 224kg of rice per capita – that’s 224kg of rice for every person listed on the census.
The Census is one of the better known responsibilities of the Bureau of Statistics and they had on display a number of Census reports going back years into Guyana’s history. Most interesting was the musty old leather-bound copy of the Census Report of British Guiana – 1921. Here is an excerpt from the census page that had data on Population – Numbers and Rates of Increase:
“The total number of people returned as living in the Colony of British Guiana at midnight on April 24th, 1921 was 297,691. These figures do not include the bulk of Aboriginal population scattered over the interior, and living in the remote parts of the Colony … The estimate on this occasion places the number of uncounted Aborigines at 9,700 of whom 2,500 are stated to be Patamonas, 2,500 Wapisanas, 2,000 Macusis while the balance is made up of Acawois, Arawaks, Caribs, Wariaus, Waiwai and Tarumas.”
A lesser known department of the Bureau of Statistics is the Cartography Department where believe it or not, the Bureau of Statistics maps every single village that their enumerators will visit for their population census. Previously done by hand, these maps are still very accurate since they include every house, building, footpath and major geographical feature that occurs in each village.
Staffers at the Exhibition yesterday had a number of these older hand-sketched maps up on display and right next to them were the new maps, recorded and designed with the GIS or the Geographic (or Geospatial) Information System. The GIS is a set of tools that capture, store, analyze, manage and present data that are linked to locations – it is a merging of cartography, statistical analysis and database technology. One staffer noted that the GIS is just one of a number of changes that the Bureau is undertaking in preparation for their 2012 population census.
Lennox Benjamin, Chief Statistician at the Bureau told Kaieteur News that the entity is proud of its staff and the way that they are dealing with the challenges meted out to them. He took the opportunity to commend his staffers on not just putting on a successful exhibition but on taking the Bureau out to the wider public.
As part of their activities the Bureau has been visiting schools to heighten awareness of the agency’s work as well as to let school children know some of the avenues through which they might have a career in statistics. He noted that one of the principle challenges that the Agency has to deal with is the reluctance of persons to divulge certain pertinent information. He hastened to add that it is required under law that a person divulge requested information to the Bureau of Statistics as long as it fits within the parameters written into the laws.
On October 15, Secretary General of CARICOM, H.E Edwin W. Carrington said in his address on the occasion of Caribbean Statistics Day that the events being held throughout the region are, “aimed at not only raising the profile of statistics in our Community, but also at emphasising the importance and the need to encourage decision-makers, researchers and other stakeholders to make use of statistics.
It is by so doing that they can contribute to the utility, improvement and strengthening of the statistical services. Statistics are at the very heart of everything we do. From issues pertaining to population – its size, the age structure; to the standard of living and the extent of poverty and other social issues; to the size and growth of national income and the status of trade in goods and services, statistics provide information to guide and monitor our development, and are particularly crucial to developing states such as ours in the Caribbean.”
He went on to note that the observance of this day presents the, “opportunity to recognize the crucial role of statistics in laying the foundation for arriving at decisions based on facts rather than on conjecture.”
He further called for Governments of the Region to play a major role in the strengthening of the capacity of their Central Statistical Offices and the Statistics Departments of other ministries and agencies.
This year, the theme for the observance of Caribbean Statistics Day takes its cue from that for the observance of World Statistics Day: `Celebrating the Many Achievements of Official Statistics’.