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Taking statistics to the next level

The weeklong Regional Conference of Heads of Planning and Statistics (HOPS) was initiated for national statisticians wanting to devise a regional map to collaborate on improving statistical data collection in the region's respective countries; and the Director of the Department of Commerce, Keniseli Lafaele and DOC’s Acting Territorial Planner, Line-Noue Kruse attended the fourth such conference, held two weeks ago in Noumea, New Caledonia.


Hosted by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SPC) to review the implementation and progress of the Ten Year Pacific Statistics Strategy (TYPPS) since 2010, the conference, and TYPPS is an SPC driven effort, collaborating with member countries and international funding agencies, to elevate the level of statistics departments or bureau capabilities in the Pacific.  


Recently, national planners have been incorporated into the regional conference to create a link between statistics, national plan, and policy. This Pacific Island State Regional conference provides American Samoa the opportunity to dialogue with other Pacific Island Countries to foster partnerships, funding opportunities, and shared new technologies, according to the Director.


Kruse said under the leadership of the Department of Commerce Director, for the first time in over ten years the US territories met as a subgroup to discuss alternative partnerships, given our unique political status as an American flagged island territory.


While at the Conference, both participated in several sub-committees and visited the Secretariat of the Pacific Community headquarters to ‘more fully situate American Samoa’s needs into the 2020 plan'. The DOC director told Samoa News he attended in place of our chief statistician, who will be on board within a week's time.


“The main focus of the conference is taking statistics to the next level — that is, not only improving on weaknesses found in census enumeration assessments (uplifting the skill level of enumerators and census workers); but improving or extending the use of statistics to emerging thematic areas — health, environmental issues, climate change and food security, disabled population, gender equality, and poverty, among others.”


Topics of discussion at the conference, according to Lafaele, included economic statistics (GDPs — gross domestic products, that is the total sum of goods and services produced in a country; the consumer price index (CPI)- which is the measure of change in price level of a market basket of goods and services purchased by households such as food, transportation, and health care); and HIES — household income and expenditures surveys.


Samoa News notes the GDP for American Samoa and other U.S. territories is now released annually by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis under the Statistical Improvement Program, funded by the U.S Department of Interior.


The first GDP was released in 2011 for American Samoa covering 2008 and 2009 and includes revised estimates for 2002 to 2009.


Lafaele said having good statistics or data is not useful at all if they are not delivered to users such as policy makers, including the administration and Fono, private sector and non-governmental groups in a manner they can understand; and that appropriate policies are being made based on these statistics that reflect the condition of the territory's population.  


“Herein lies the significant roles played by government statisticians and government planners - in making data or information products understandable to the users mentioned above.”


(Samoa News should point out that in it’s FY 2014 budget justification document submitted early this year to the U.S. Congress, the DOI’s Office of Insular Affairs says GDP estimates released in 2011 “shed light on serious challenges faced in the territories and brought in to focus the vulnerability of their small undiversified economies.”


The document further stated, “Recently adjusted per capita GDP figures show that American Samoa’s low per capita real GDP was $9,315 in 2010. American Samoa’s population declined 3.1 percent from 2000 to 2010, with its population at 55,519 in that year.”)


In the meantime, the Department of Commerce has already submitted data to the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, as well as initiated South-to-South partnerships to increase the technical proficiency of data collection and validation for the American Samoa Government.


Without these capacity building efforts to build the statistical profiling of American Samoa we limit ourselves from funding opportunities and high-level technical programs happening right now in the Pacific, the DOC director noted.


He said, on their way home with Samoa and Tokelau government statisticians (12 hours in Fiji awaiting flight to Apia) they discussed the possibility of doing a joint project under TYPPS that would be the HIES.


“I think it's a great idea because Samoa is the leading country in the Pacific in terms of statistics program development (that we can use as a resource) and our proximity (Tokelau's administration or statistics office is located in Apia, Samoa). 


“Moreover, Samoa's government statistician, Sifuiva Muagututi'a Reupena, was the chairperson of the Pacific heads of statistics organization until the change of guard during the conference, when Vanuatu's government statistician was handed the reigns of the organization— and is a highly respected person within that circle.


“Hence, collaborating with Samoa and Tokelau on the HIES project would benefit American Samoa immensely - accessing technical assistance from SPC and possibly international funding organizations indirectly,” said Director Lafaele.