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Cayman Islands Minister Hon Roy McTaggart speaks at Caribbean Statisticians Meeting

Keynote Remarks By Honorable Roy McTaggart Minister for Finance and Economic Development
At the Opening Ceremony of the 42nd Meeting of the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians

9:00-10 AM, 23rd October 2017
Marriot Resort, Grand Cayman

Dr. Harrison and staff of the CARICOM Statistics Project, Heads of Statistical Offices across the Caribbean, observers from regional and international organizations, colleagues in the Cayman Islands Government, ladies and gentlemen: Good morning.

It is my privilege to give the keynote remarks on the theme of the Meeting “Improving the Lives of People, Advancing the Action Plan for Statistics in CARICOM.”

The fact that the Cayman Islands are hosting this 42nd Meeting of the Standing Committee of Caribbean Statisticians is a welcome reminder to us of the role that statistics plays in our history. Statistics was introduced to Cayman more than 200 years ago by way of the very first census in 1802. That census was conducted by Mr. Edward Corbet, a staff aide to the Governor of Jamaica, Lieutenant General George Nugent. Mr. Corbet’s census recorded 933 residents on Grand Cayman and the only residents he noted in the sister islands of Cayman Brac and Little Cayman were turtlers who visited during the summer season.

Statistical officers were also brought from Kingston, Jamaica to conduct statistical and economic surveys in succeeding years. Following the launch of the West Indies Federation, in 1959 Cayman ceased to be a dependency of Jamaica, gained its own constitution and became a direct dependency of the United Kingdom. Historical records show that during the intervening years, administrative assistance came mainly from the British Development Division in the Caribbean, based in Barbados.

Today, Cayman’s statistical development remains very much connected with the rest of the region through the CARICOM Statistical Programme, other regional initiatives, support of the Caribbean Technical Assistance Centre (‘CARTAC’), and more importantly through our complement of staff statisticians, statistical officers and advisers, who hail from right here in the Cayman Islands and across the Caribbean region including: Jamaica, St. Vincent and Grenadines, the Commonwealth of Dominica, Barbados and Guyana.

As Minister for Finance and Economic Development, I speak primarily as a key user of official statistics and secondly as a supporter of statistical development. Indeed, in my former role in public accounting, I was designated a Statistical Audit Specialist, employing statistical principles and techniques as a tool in the audits of financial statements.

Admittedly, Cayman’s local statistical system is still underdeveloped when compared to some of our neighbors. However, over the past few years some significant progress has been made to improve our statistical systems. The Cayman Islands Government has invested heavily in the training and recruitment of skilled talent, embraced the increased use of appropriate technology in statistical activities and amended our governing statistical legislation to bring in it line with international best practices.

These actions are now bearing fruit, and we have seen an improvement in the quality and timeliness of our official statistics which have become more responsive to the informational requirements of our various decision-making processes. High quality statistics are one of the critical components of sound Government policy development and it is through these policies that we impact the lives of our people.

I will share some of the key factors and lessons that have proven to be crucial in Cayman’s recent statistical development, and hope that our experience will be of some value to you, as we come together as CARICOM partners seeking to advance our statistical programmes.

At the most basic fundamental level we must ask ourselves, why are we producing statistics? We believe that the development of any statistical system must be driven by the end-use of the statistics, which is, as simply put by the theme of this Meeting, “to improve the lives of people.” Or, to paraphrase the United Nations Fundamental Principles of Statistics (Principle 1): Official statistics must be an indispensable element in the information system of a democratic society, serving the Government, the economy and the public with data about the economic, demographic, social and environmental situation. To this end, official statistics that meet the test of practical utility are to be compiled and made available on an impartial basis by official statistical agencies to honor citizens’ entitlement to public information.

There is a notion that statistical principles such as this are relevant only to producers of statistics. I argue otherwise; this principle remains of primary importance to us, as ordinary users of official statistics.

Statistics help to tell a story of what is happening on the ground in our respective countries and how we compare to others in our region and internationally. Statistics allow ordinary citizens’ access to information and help them to independently evaluate the policies and actions of the decision makers.

The challenge is, how can we as data users, identify and communicate the public information that we need for good governance? And how can we support their production on an impartial basis?

In the case of Cayman, the core data needs for economic governance have been legislated. In 2003, the Public Management and Finance Law (PMFL) was enacted. This Law sought to reform fiscal management in the Islands and it mandated strict compliance with accounting and financial management standards. It also required regular public reporting on the state of the economy using macroeconomic statistics. The intention was to define the context and macroeconomic objectives of fiscal policy in measurable terms. Therefore, the reporting and analysis on the state of the economy using core economic statistics – gross domestic product (GDP), consumer price index (CPI), unemployment and employment, and the current account of the balance of payments – were made part of the PMFL.

The legislative process which included extensive consultation with the local community validated the need for including the reporting of these statistics as part of fiscal management.

The PMFL has served the Cayman Islands well, resulting in surpluses in fiscal operations and declining central government debt. The law itself has been amended over the years as fiscal standards were further tightened, while the requirement on the reporting of core economic statistics remained. Our experience shows that legislation facilitates impartiality, transparency, stability and ultimately discipline in fiscal policy-making that supports socio-economic development.

With the PMFL mandating the use of the core statistics in economic reporting, it also compelled the allocation of greater Government resources for the independent production of these statistics, without influencing any aspect of the production process. The Government has steadily invested in growing the capacity of the Economics and Statistics Office, growing the Office from just 6 staff members in the 2003/4 financial year to a full time staff complement today of 24 of which 19 are assigned to our Statistics section.

The budget provided to ESO is not only meant to support their production of what we call the “statutory statistics” (those mandated by the PMFL), but also to allow them to address statistical needs and provide technical assistance to other Government Agencies and the information requirements of the private sector.

In the last couple of years our statistics function has been a central component of a number of nationally important and high profile projects such as The Electoral Boundary Commission and The Minimum Wage Advisory Committee. In the case of the Electoral Boundary Commission, the ESO was requested to provide Census data as a basis for re-drawing and increasing electoral districts from 18 to 19. This work enabled the implementation of One Person, One Vote, in single member constituencies across the Cayman Islands for the first time, and our May 2017 national elections were held on that basis.

The Minimum Wage Advisory Committee was informed by Labour Force Survey and National Accounts data and the Committee was able to recommend to the Cabinet an official minimum wage, which came into effect om 1st March 2016, another historic first for these Islands.

Emanating from the Work of the Minimum Wage Advisory Committee, just last week, the ESO launched an Occupational Wage Survey, another first for the Cayman Islands which seeks to gather detailed data from all employers (public and private) on the various occupations that persons are employed in and the compensation paid to employees.

On a more routine basis agencies such as the Public Service Pensions Board and OfREG (our Utilities industry regulator) are regular users of Consumer Price Index data for their respective statutory reviews. The Government’s Budget Cycle is another significant consumer of Official Statistics as the Cabinet and Government Agencies rely on them to guide the preparation of their operating and capital budget submissions. These are just a few examples of the practical uses of official statistics for policy-making in Cayman.

Advancing the independent production of official statistics in Cayman has been strongly supported by consecutive Government administrations through a responsive legislative agenda. The first Statistics Law in Cayman was enacted in 1970 and has seen several amendments since then, each cycle of amendments aimed at bringing the legislation current with international best practices while also improving statistical processes and data protection.

The most recent amendments made in 2010 and 2016 mandated the surveys for the System of National Accounts and the Balance of Payments; the treatment of all individual information as confidential information to be used exclusively for statistical purposes and their exemption from the Freedom of Information Law; the advance issuance of a statistical publication calendar; and the increase in fines for non-compliance by respondents, and for the breaching of confidentiality by survey staff.

Let me be clear, Cayman’s statistical system still has a long way to go. As the ESO is empowered with budgetary and legislative support for its own statistical priorities, the challenge of developing a Public Sector-wide statistical system lies ahead. A modest budget for technical assistance to other agencies will hopefully be a catalyst for a growing collaboration either bilaterally or through the National Statistics Coordination Committee. The overall aim is to widen the improved production of higher quality statistics for policy-making, as more agencies are establishing their own statistical units. In this light, the CARICOM Action Plan for Statistics is a useful guide for the long-term.

It is my hope that you will collectively succeed in advocating for the Action Plan among producers and users of statistics alike in your own countries.

I conclude this morning by reiterating the strategic role of regional cooperation among users and producers of official statistics. As I have mentioned earlier, the region has provided Cayman with much needed skilled statisticians for capacity-building given the very small population base of the Islands. However, the market of statisticians in the region seems to have become increasingly tighter, which points to the greater need for training and development. It is in this light that the Cayman Islands Government has supported and will continue to support the Caribbean Technical Assistance Centre (CARTAC). We hope that this will not only benefit the Cayman Islands through their technical missions and training, but the other jurisdictions in the region, particularly in advancing the Regional Statistics Work Program and the Action Plan for Statistics.

I wish you all a productive time in Cayman. I am hopeful that by God’s grace, a greater sense of mission in responding to the multi-dimensional needs for official statistics in the Caribbean community will be accomplished


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