Fly blind in data collection, VI could use a statistical analysis institute | Opinion


Data is vital for making choices and making decisions at all levels: individual, business and government. Because we live in a world of unlimited needs and limited means, choices and trade-offs must be made, and sound analysis of the data helps to make optimal decisions.

Residents, for example, may have to choose between eating at home or eating out in order to save money for a future down payment on a car or a house. Business owners may have to choose between leasing or purchasing a piece of equipment. Potential external investors in the territory would need to know the cost of living, the ease of executing contracts, the cost of energy and water, the frequency of power cuts, the average commercial rent, income distribution to know what to pay employees, how to price goods or services, whether it is to invest in a generator or solar panels while earning a return on investment.

As government officials, it would be necessary to analyze the number of tax incentives to be offered to large investors in return for job creation, and the hope of an increase in income tax. In all of these cases, what will be needed is precise and reliable data on prices, interest rates, inflation, expected inflation, expected sales growth, expected profitability, income value. lost, the expected economic impact of the investment and the size of multipliers between different sectors of the economy to capture the spillover effects of backward and forward linkages.

Data, however, are scarce, unreliable and incomplete in the Virgin Islands. Vital economic and social data is not systematically collected, cleaned up, made public and rarely analyzed. Too often, decisions are made with outdated, incomplete and inaccurate data, leading to poor results. All too often we have to accept data from projections from other people with special interests. We are suffering because we do not have the appropriate data and analytical capabilities for our due diligence (the VITOL propane conversion agreement comes to mind). We fly blind in negotiations.

We, too often, cannot quantify the dimensions of a social or economic problem to successfully compete for federal grants. And, because we don’t have a culture of monitoring and evaluation, we can’t easily measure and evaluate performance, and therefore don’t know if a program is working. We fly blindly begging Uncle Sam to help us and as a result we lose some opportunities and waste many opportunities that we have landed.

Currently, the Virgin Islands do not appear in many top databases, whether it’s free access or paid memberships.

Locally, there are six main sources of economic and social data. Yet only three have data accessible on the web, and two of the three present data in downloadable (not pdf) form, so only two are useful to a researcher.

• VI Department of Labor

• Economic research office

• VI Port Authority / WICO

In addition, there is a glaring lack of data on banking, the environment and businesses in the Virgin Islands. We don’t know how much credit goes to different types of businesses. We don’t have data on critical functioning ecosystems, or data on which businesses thrive, fail, survive, increase productivity and profitability, lose productivity and profitability. Thus, we do not know the leading sectors or the lagging sectors.

In social data, it is necessary to wait for the decennial censuses and the community surveys of the Virgin Islands to know the poverty, the structure of the families and the demography of the population. The Virgin Islands do not have a precise idea of ​​the distribution of their income. No Gini coefficient was calculated.

From a macroeconomic point of view, a set of critical variables must be known and constantly monitored: real economic growth rates; projected growth rates; unemployment rate; inflation, interest rate; credit offer; activity rate, poverty rate, income inequality, ease of doing business indices; debt to gross domestic product ratio; revenue as a percentage of GDP; real income versus projected income; projected spending rates versus actual rates; debt service as a percentage of total government expenditure; and productivity. We do not have a macroeconomic model of the economy and cannot simulate the likely impacts of tax changes, for example. But yet we blithely regard sales taxes and the Internet because we need more revenue. Without these numbers on a scorecard and basic stimulus models, we are flying largely blind in the areas of financial management and economic policy making.

In the field of educational data, administrative data is abundant, but it is not analyzed in depth. Currently, we are experiencing a COVID pandemic. No mention is made of the disparities and gaps in achievement that may have appeared between students in public schools with an Internet connection at home and those without, nor the impact of delays in doing so. discount laptops and hotspot connections. We run the risk that an entire cohort of students will be affected by two closely spaced external shocks – Hurricanes Irma and Maria and COVID. We do not know the degree of learning deficits and, therefore, the best targeted corrective interventions. We fly blind when it comes to educating our children.

The best step to improve statistical and analytical capacity would be to create a statistical and planning institute with the following characteristics and mandates.

First, the institute should have a legal mandate to periodically collect social and economic data from public sector agencies and private companies. The data collection process should be routinized and automated as much as possible. Periodic household and business surveys need to be planned and adequately funded.

Second, a governance system must be designed to address privacy, confidentiality, and security issues.

Third, the institute must be well funded and staffed with adequately trained staff. The institute is expected to attract people trained in mathematics, statistics, computer programming, data science, demography, economics, psychology and sociology.

Fourth, the institute must be independent and adhere to the highest standards of integrity and transparency. It should be led by technocrats determined to use the best available methodologies, to publish data periodically, and to engage in objective analysis. Its quantitative social and economic reports must be impartial and objective.

In addition, the institute should issue reports without review or veto from the CEO. The elected politicians will be too tempted to publish only statistical reports favorable to the administration in place. The institute should include most members of the community, the business sector and academics, not government officials. The director should be appointed for terms asynchronous with the election cycle of governors. Given the long history of cronyism and favoritism in policy VI, the independence of the institute should be a necessary and non-negotiable condition.

Fifth, the institute should sell services to the private sector and actively seek grants to diversify revenue sources and isolate itself as much as possible from local fiscal policy.

Precedents exist in other island territories for the establishment of statistical offices and institutes – Guam (2002) and Puerto Rico (2003).

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