Questions over those CSO figures
The Central Statistical Office last Monday released its preliminary report of the 2011 Population and Housing census. This is a crucial document, but the lateness of even these initial figures reflects the challenges policy-makers continually face in Trinidad and Tobago.
Censuses are supposed to be conducted every ten years and, ideally, the base statistics should be available that same year. The CSO's reports, however, are usually four or more years out of date—the most recent Annual Statistical Digest is from 2008 and the last Population and Vital Statistics Report is dated 2005. This situation is supposed to improve now that the Government has contracted a Swedish company to upgrade the CSO's systems and procedures.
The importance of timeliness for policy-making is demonstrated even from the sketchy data in the preliminary report, and it would be useful if the CSO's officials put their figures in context for the general public. For example, the supposed 13 per cent increase in vagrants is statistically meaningless. According to the CSO, there were 471 street dwellers in 2000 and in 2011 there were 534. The very precision of these figures proves them unreliable, especially considering the difficulties inherent in counting persons who are, by definition, itinerant. Based on these statistics, policy-makers must proceed on the assumption that the vagrant problem has neither worsened nor improved over the past decade.
A more significant statistic is the decline in the major urban centres, since this may reflect a backward developmental trend. According to the CSO, even as the total population of T&T increased by four per cent to 1,324,699, there were shrinkages in the residents of four major urban centres—22 per cent in Port of Spain, nine per cent in San Fernando, almost three per cent in Diego Martin, and just under two per cent in San Juan/Laventille. This occurred in tandem with an increase in the number of vacant buildings in T&T.
These are not positive developments, because thriving urban centres are the key to progress in any society. This has been so historically, and modern research has proved the links between cities and development. For reasons which have to do with connectivity of information and concentration of skills, higher population density in an ordered environment stimulates human productivity and creativity. Questions must also be asked about how the T&T population has increased when the birth-rate in 2000 was below replacement levels.
But what are policy-makers supposed to do with such information? Only if the CSO can provide timely detailed data would the causes of this urban flight be clarified. Without such statistics, policy can only be informed by guesswork and partisan politics. Which is what now obtains, and what helps keep T&T a Third World country.