Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Vaps and vikey vie


Mark Fraser

In Gasparillo this week, the Prime Minister defended accusations of perpetuating ethnic divisions by citing population numbers to show how that could never happen.

According to the Express report,

“Persad-Bissessar pointed out that this country’s population comprises of 35.4 per cent East Indian, 34.2 per cent Africans, 22.8 per cent Mixed, 6.2 per cent Undeclared and 1.4 per cent are the others (Chinese, White, Syrian, Lebanese, etc).”

These were the last census figures from the Trinidad and Tobago 2011 Population and Housing Census Demographic Report. Going to the website to verify this, I saw that the data, normally compiled every ten years, was a year late, having been postponed be­cause Parliament was prorogued before the Census Order had been passed.

One thing led to another and I landed up at a column written by Dr Terrence Farrell, “Flying Blind”, which had appeared in the Express on September 1, 2013. It was a shocking lament at the state of the Central Statistical Office and a terrible indictment of the Ministry of Planning and Sustainable Development.

This is how Dr Farrell began.

“The offices of the Central Statistical Office (CSO) on Independence Square are closed, shuttered by OSHA. The building has been deemed unsafe for occupation. The final ignominy! Over the years, the CSO has been shunted from pillar to post in various dilapidated buildings around Port of Spain, even as other ministries and departments now occupy opulent offi­ces in the Waterfront Complex and elsewhere. A visit to the CSO’s website finds similar dilapidation. The site is badly designed. The data series published there date back several years. Even the monthly Retail Prices Index shown there dates back to 2012. The 2011 Population Census Report is nowhere to be found on the website. There is no Household Budgetary Survey report, no labour market information, no measures of inequality and poverty; even the crime and other social statistics are badly out of date. Maybe the Government has access to these reports, but if so, we also should have access.”

Since he wrote this a year ago, the website may have had some updating —I cannot say how much as I had not seen it then—but at least the Census Report is now there.

That might be as much as had changed.

The CSO lost its premises in May 2013 because it was deemed unfit for occupation, and to date, no appropriate building has been found. For more than a year, some staff have had no adequate CSO space to work in—and Government buildings have been lying idly by, wastefully returning to dust as they degenerate into OSHA (Occu­pational Safety and Health Agency) contraventions before any reasonable use has been made of them. Just think about NAPA (National Academy for the Performing Arts).

Dr Farrell makes the point very force­fully—and this is perhaps what made me equally indignant—that this vulgar disregard for the state of the CSO is reflected in the inaccuracy, unreliability and lateness of data. The fact that the CSO has been abandoned like an overripe Julie mango tells of a disregard for proper planning that explains a lot of why “policymakers prefer to select projects and make policy by voops, vaps and vikey vie”, to use Dr Farrell’s words.

And in this land of churches that has made everyone further from God, it is one of the ironies that the Minister of Planning, who has always promoted himself as an intellectual, an academic grounded in the world of research and information, instead of leading the way by fostering a culture of data-driven planning, should show as much contempt for sustainable development as the rest of the pack.

The ignominy.