Fixing Belize’s Statistical System
For the past year, the Inter-American Development Bank has funded efforts to streamline Belize’s National Statistical System, which is nominally managed by the Statistical Institute of Belize. With so many organizations collecting and distributing data on a variety of subjects, it is the S.I.B.’s job in Belize’s law to make sure that that data is accessible to all, like for instance with quarterly press conferences and timely releases. But there is often conflict and attempts to use the data for purposes other than for which it is created. So the question News Five’s Aaron Humes had for participants at today’s workshop at the Biltmore was: what is the end result and how will it benefit Belizeans? Their answers can be found in the following report.
It is established that Belize has no shortage of data available on economic, social and environmental indicators. You can ask just about every Government ministry, more than a few private organizations and especially the Statistical Institute of Belize. But not all of that data is readily accessible, and some of it is occasionally contradictory of itself and others. Director General of the S.I.B., Dr. Leopold Perriott, says that cooperation between data-gathering organizations will help eliminate unnecessary duplication and ensure that the data reaches the people who most need it.
Dr. Leopold Perriott, Director General, Statistical Institute of Belize
“It isn’t very well coordinated, because we have – S.I.B. has its own operations, then Ministry of Health has its own operations, then Ministry of Finance has its own operations, then Ministry of Education and it goes on – each department, each organization, collect their own data. Now the problem with this is that very often, we at S.I.B. – we are mandated to be organizing all of these data across the country; but the problem is that the coordination is not there. We don’t know all the definitions we use that everybody else uses. We first of all have to establish a coordination in the definitions that we use; coordination in the kind of concepts, and then we have to avoid duplication as much as possible. And so there’s no point for S.I.B. to go out and do a survey and collect information and then the Ministry of Health has information sitting there.”
The Director of the Sustainable Development Unit within that portfolio under Senator Godwin Hulse’s Ministry of Agriculture, Victor Alegria, says data collection is part of their monitoring of Belize’s progress to reach the Sustainable Development Goals set by the United Nations for its members in 2015.
Victor Alegria, Director of Sustainable Development, Ministry of Agriculture
“We are working in collaboration with the Ministry of Economic Development to be able to then put all the mechanisms in place which was rightfully highlighted earlier, to have that entire process of being able to have all the mechanisms in place structurally, so that at the end of the day it will become a circular approach; that you’ll be able to identify how we are in terms of our indicators; what issues we are failing on or don’t have sufficient data; what areas we are being successful on; and then be able to provide – again through that same process or mechanism that was highlighted earlier – so that then at the C.E.O. and Cabinet level then decisions will be made in terms of ensuring that we strengthen those areas that we don’t necessarily have data that we need to collect data on, so that we could improve, of course, our performance in achieving those Sustainable Development Goals.”
According to Dr. Perriott, the S.I.B., who has suffered from a reduced budget in this year’s national budget, does need the funding to continue its plans, but most important is the training of data gatherers.
Dr. Leopold Perriott
“There has to be input from the different organizations to start off with – they have to agree for training, for example, they have to somehow input something into getting their people properly trained. We have a very small budget [and] I think it’s not going to be sufficient; and so we probably have to be going back to the public purse from time to time. And that’s why it’s important to get the approval and the buy-in from the major players in Cabinet; they have to see that it’s worth the while to do this activity.”
The S.I.B. and the I.D.B., represented by specialist consultant Janine Perfait and country manager Cassandra Rogers, also agree that it all has to matter to the Belizean people, and therefore they must know where to get the data and how to use it.
“People have to, first of all, be sensitized – and this is sensitization from the Ministers down – that this process is ongoing and it’s going to be ongoing for quite some time. And people have to know that there is a process going on, and people have to accept agree on the various standards to be used in the system; they have to agree on it, and they have to agree on the levels of dissemination – how they will disseminate. This isn’t a matter that we can, by decree, tell somebody how to do – this has to be an issue of agreement between the different organizations. And so once the dissemination is there, once the agreement is in place, then there’ll be much less resistance and people will know what is happening, know where to go to; they can get on the computer and access the National Statistical System at a central location.”
Janine Perfait, I.D.B. Lead Specialist, Belize National Statistical System
“I think what we are trying to do is improve the lives of the citizens of Belize; and we are trying to bring the data to the people. We obviously collect a lot of data based on people – where they live, what their housing is, what their health is, what their education is – but they can use that data. They can use that data to improve their own lives. The government can use the data; the private sector can use the data, the researchers can use the data – everyone can actually have access to the data, without any privacy issues, to improve their own lives.”
Aaron Humes reporting for News Five.
The workshop continues through Wednesday.