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Fix PRDI or be doomed

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Friday, February 2, 2018

The story of a carpenter’s apprentice reply, of “20 inches and a kuh,” to his master’s request for the measurement of a piece of wood, captures the essence of economic data activity in Tobago.

At the moment there is no reliable Tobago-specific data collecting agency and the Central Statistical Office (CSO), which services both islands, is woefully inadequate.

Moody’s, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Inter- American Development Bank (IDB) pointed to this situation last year when they lamented the unavailability of this country’s data.

In the first place, data is extremely important to one’s economy. Economic pundits’ data is as important to this century as oil was to the last one. In other words, data is the driver of growth and change.

Thus Tobago business owners who presented the island’s economic plight to Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley and his ministerial team on January 22 are advised to make haste and demand the Tobago House of Assembly renew the activities of the Policy Research and Development Institute (PRDI) - Tobago’s statistical equivalent to the CSO.

For years, the PRDI provided data on the island’s economy but within recent times its activity was left in abeyance.

This island’s need for statistics, especially reliable ones, is glaring, as business owners who suffered severely because of the unreliability of the ferry service could not quantify the magnitude of their loss when they asked the PM for compensation. They simply had no data to justify their claims.

The tourism industry suffers from a similar situation and this may be responsible, in part, for its current demise. But tourism industry insiders question the integrity of the Tourism Division’s statistics and some are doing their own research. In 2015, the then Secretary of Tourism Tracy Davidson- Celestine piloted amotion at the Plenary Sitting  calling on the THA and other agencies to support the tourism drive, as it was expected to yield $550 million with an expected spend of US$3000 per head. She based her calculations on 30,000 tourists visiting the island annually.

However, recent figures released by the tourism association indicated that for the same period, the projected figure for tourists’ arrivals was only 22,000.

Which statistic represented the true picture?

Likewise, tourism and culture stakeholders currently use subjective words like “huge” and“successful” to describe annual  events after millions of taxpayers’ dollars are spent.

Last year’s Carnival, Tobago Jazz Experience and Blue Food Festival are perfect examples of conjectures which arose because of an absence of statistics.

Additionally, when politicians talk of the low level of productivity of Tobago’s workers they are simply speculating because they do not have the data to support their claims.

The simple fact is that without data, islanders have no idea of the true state of the economy. It means that we are trying to speculate our way out of our current economic situation. We simply cannot afford to continue doing this.