Challenging Statistics

Origin aside, ever since the quotation made famous by Mark Twain, that there are three types of lies – lies, damn lies and statistics – the profession of statistics invariably finds itself under the microscope and the practitioners of the profession having their output continually challenged.

The preliminary report on the Guyana Population and Housing Census 2012 which began in the fourth quarter of 2012 and closed in January 2013 has just been published. The census was conducted as part of a regional effort coordinated by the CARICOM Secretariat and in compliance with the United Nations’ mandate to execute the 2010 Global Round of Censuses.

The two principal criticisms I have heard of the preliminary report relate to a gratuitous comment made by the Chief Statistician about migration and concerns expressed by a number of persons that they could not recall having been enumerated in the census. Data for the years 2004 – 2013 published by the Ministry of Finance and the Bureau of Statistics show official net outward migration of approximately 12,700 persons per annum which accords with my own best estimate using figures published by the Bureau of Statistics from data supplied by the Registrar of Births and Deaths.

The second matter, if true, is serious but for a different reason. Population size feeds into two key economic indicators used for international comparison purposes – per capita GDP and per capita GNP. Age and geographic distribution are useful indicators for planners in education, health and pension policies, in determining the location of schools and medical facilities and estimating the expenditure on pensions.

The Chief Statistician was up front with some of the challenges which his officers and field staff faced: shortages of skilled manpower to cover the relatively enormous landmass of the country, the inaccessibility of many areas during the rainy seasons, the increasing number of gated communities, and gaining access to migrant workers in remote logging and mining camps throughout the country. The possibility of an understatement was recognised by the Stats Bureau and according to the Chief Statistician planning went into the 2012 Census to ensure that such difficulties did not taint its results or the reputation of the Stats Bureau.

To avoid the possibility, the reported count includes 14,009 persons as uncounted from 4,732 households across the ten (10) administrative regions where the enumerators encountered extreme difficulties to enumerate, either because of non-cooperation or because no one was home.

A census is an expensive business but from all appearances the exercise appears to have been well funded with the annual allocation to the Statistical Bureau increasing from $107 million in 2011 to $952 million in 2012, during which most of the fieldwork was done. The allocation was reduced to $247 million in 2013 and increased to $327 million in budget 2014.

The report shows that Guyana’s population has dropped to 747,884, down from 751,223 recorded for 2002. This is not the first occasion on which a national census reveals a decline in the population as the following information extracted from the 2002 and 2012 censuses show.


PNC’s first
The decline in the population between the 2002 and the 2012 censuses is only the second time since the earliest censuses in the 1800s that Guyana has experienced falling population, the first during the period 1980 – 1991 when there was a much more pronounced decline of 36,000 persons, and the current census. The largest increase was between 1946 and 1960 (a fourteen year period), reflecting the post-war baby boom that took place worldwide.

The decline between 1980 and 1991 would confirm the widely held view that Guyanese were no longer prepared to endure the PNC’s shamelessly rigged elections, denial of fundamental freedoms, an increasingly long list of restricted food and other items of import, and foreign exchange shortages. 1980 was of course the year of the infamous Constitution that now allows the PPP/C to carry out all forms of excesses and plead that their action is consistent with the same objectionable Constitution. It seems reasonable to conclude that migration under the PNC was largely influenced by the push factors which drove people out of the country.

PPP/C follows
The decline during the 2000 and 2012 period is no doubt due to a combination of factors including the crime wave following the 2002 Jail Break, the culture of corruption spawned by the PPP/C Administration as well as what has come to be known as the pull factors of immigration with those who have gone before sponsoring those left behind. With the more attractive jobs in the state sector reserved for the members and families of the PPP/C, our graduates are migrating in increasing numbers to seek opportunities abroad. In other words, the PPP/C’s contribution to migration is a result of both the push and pull factors.

A comment needs to be made too comparing the decline of 35,894 between 1980 and 1991 and the decline of 3,339 between 2000 and 2012. There are no reliable records available, if at all, of inward migration during the many years of the PNC rule when the joke was that Guyana is a place “you come from not go to”. On the other hand the evidence is there of the large numbers of Chinese nationals all over Guyana and of Brazilians operating in the extractive and their support industries. Had it not been for these, the population decline would have been much more that the 3,339 reported.

What might have been
As the graph shows, if Guyana had maintained growth rates experienced during the decade of the turbulent 60s, or even at the lower rates of growth per decade of 20% and 15%, our population would have been in the range of 1,200,000 and 1,500,000, in other words our population would have doubled, we would have had a surplus of skills, a large number of consumers, entrepreneurs and businesses. One and a half million may sound a lot but just think of the number of Guyanese in the Caribbean and North America and the magnitude shrinks to nothingness.

Looked at another way, a 20% increase over ten years is only 1.84% compounded annually, while a 15% over ten years require an annual compounded rate of 1.41%. These are well below the annual growth rates of countries at our level of development. It is not however a question of fertility – the birth rate far exceeds the death rate – our problem is migration for which we seem to have no interest, let alone policy.


The PNC seems unwilling or unable to accept that it made very serious mistakes during the period 1968 to 1992 when under pressure from the USA it finally conceded free and fair elections. None of its current leaders seem confident enough to accept that that the 1980 Constitution was custom-made for an elected dictator, that the right of citizens to eat the food of their choice was criminalized and that the exercise of the right of assembly, association and demonstration was met with harassment.

It would be unfair to the PNC not to recognise some efforts at reform but these have been too tentative and not far reaching. As a result it seems unable to persuade its supporters that better days are ahead and that they should stay and struggle for change.

The PPP/C has rapidly accumulated its own long list of violations denying democracy to the citizens of the country, exploiting the Constitution as much as the PNC, engaging in political victimization and discrimination, all the while building a kleptocracy cum plutocracy. Many of its supporters see a party and government in which irreversible rot has set in. The preliminary results of the 2012 census confirm the results of past elections – that the PPP/C’s traditional support base is embarrassed and alienated from a party that has lost any sense of morality.

Given half a chance, they too will continue the outward trek. Reaching 800,000 would be a challenge, let alone 1,500,000.

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