Facts about our figures
It is not very often that the Central Statistical Office (CSO) responds to commentary in the media concerning the statistics it produces. It prefers to recognise the right to freedom of expression by commentators and the press. Generally, however, as the key producer of official statistics, the CSO is entitled to comment if interpretations are erroneous or statistics are misused.
Given the prominent position in the Opinion column afforded the editorial headlined “Questions over those CSO figures” (Express, June 20), I think it will be remiss of me as Director of Statistics and a serious disservice to the 3,900 persons who worked tirelessly in very demanding and in some cases dangerous circumstances, to remain silent on this occasion and to allow unchallenged, the misrepresentation of facts and what seems like deliberate and possibly a prompted attempt to undermine public confidence in the statistics being produced by CSO.
In the haste to disparage the CSO’s achievement, the author, immediately following the release of the 2011 census count (the next day), could see no useful value in the achievement of providing preliminary statistics one year after the Census. Let me, however, with the greatest of humility indicate that the Director of Statistics of the CSO has been receiving messages of congratulation for the report from senior officials of regional statistical offices.
The process that is currently being implemented for all stages of the conduct and processing of the 2011 Population and Housing Census has developed following considerable regional and international consultation and support.
To describe the preliminary count report as “sketchy” is to betray a lack of appreciation of the information that is being offered and the limitations of the source instrument from which the information is obtained, all of which are carefully and transparently explained in the report.
The Preliminary Report is no more “sketchy’’ than any other preliminary report produced elsewhere in the region or for that matter in the world. A preliminary report is “preliminary’’. It does not claim to be more than that.
But the misrepresentation gets worse. The editorial says, “For example, the supposed 13 per cent increase in vagrants is statistically meaningless”… and continues … “the very precision of these figures proves them unreliable especially considering the difficulties inherent in counting persons who are, by definition, itinerant”. This is by no means a logical response to the application of tried and tested methodology by the CSO.
The staff of the CSO who walked the streets between 11 p.m. and midnght on the night of January 8, 2012, raising cardboard covers and shining torchlights in vagrants' grimy faces, understand better than any the difficulties inherent in counting persons who are by definition itinerant. The CSO, with deliberation, explained in the report that “For the purpose of the 2011 Population and Housing Census, Street Dwellers refer to persons who were found sleeping or preparing to sleep on the sidewalk and pavements of streets or on the ground of open plots of land adjoining a street”.
The figure reported was an unbiased, accurate count of a defined population at a very specific point in time and cannot be referred to as “the supposed 13 per cent increase in vagrants”. Based on a very specific methodology, at a very specific reference point in time, the 2011 census count produced 13 per cent increase in vagrants (street dwellers — CSO terminology) over the 2000 number.
To say that the very precision of these figures proves them unreliable is disingenuous. The unreliability will only arise from the use to which the data is put. If we repeated the count of street dwellers the very next day, even utilising the exact team and procedures, we would have most likely arrived at a different estimate. The time reference is therefore important. But the methodology takes that into consideration and in any jurisdiction would be applied in the same way for this purpose.
The editorial raises the issue of timeliness of reporting data. While the CSO undertakes primary data collection through the surveys it conducts, a significant number of the statistical series disseminated in reports is gathered from secondary data sources including statistical units of other government departments who, like the CSO, face similar resource constraints to collate and provide administrative records and other secondary data and make them available to the CSO in a timely manner.
Ironically, business establishments who would be among the most regular users of statistical data as they seek to gain competitive advantage, not to mention other data suppliers, by their intransigence and unwillingness to respond in a timely manner for whatever reason, have contributed to the challenges being experienced by the CSO in delivering more timely statistical products. We are in the process of modernising and transforming the CSO but if the sources of data do not provide such data as they have accurately and on time and the CSO has no means of ensuring compliance, then the CSO is at a disadvantage.
Some of the other questions raised in the editorial concerning population growth and redistribution can only be properly addressed when the details of the census are made available.
The CSO is working assiduously to provide the full results of the 2011 Population and Housing Census by September, since we are in concert with the editorial that timeliness of data is important for policy making. The CSO is committed to improving its service delivery despite the numerous challenges that confront us and will continue to provide, as we have always done, statistics compiled on an impartial basis, using strictly professional considerations and the best methods and procedures available, guided by our own experience and understanding of the local situation.
While we acknowledge that CSO has had its challenges it is not reasonable to dismiss the CSO as an institution or to undermine the integrity of its work or to cast aspersions on the validity of the data that it provides. Such a response to our Preliminary Report on the 2011 Census cannot seriously be regarded as an appropriate response from a responsible press.
• Dave Clement is Director of Statistics at the Central Statistical Office