We were more than a bit concerned when it was brought to our attention last week that Antigua & Barbuda was not featured in the 2010 edition of the United Nations Human Development Index (HDI).
The discovery came to light when the body chose to release its latest edition in this country. Given the task was no less a person than Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer. We would like to imagine this might have caused him some discomfiture, as Antigua & Barbuda was not mentioned.
He could not use this nation as reference to toot his horn nor thump his chest. There were no anecdotes to which he could refer. We could not even boast, “We better than dem.”
There was no indication at all of how far this country had come since the release of the 2009 HDI, where Antigua & Barbuda had jumped seven notches up to the 47th position. Back then this news made the front pages of the newspapers and the current administration was able to attribute the gains to its policies over the last five years.
The United Nations Human Development Index is a standard measure, which ranks countries based on life expectancy at birth; knowledge, as measured by the adult literacy rate; educational enrollment; and standard of living, as measured by gross domestic product (GDP).
Unlike other indices, the HDI is all encompassing. It determines where a country falls on the continuum of developing, developed or under developed. This designation has implications for how nations are perceived and the aid that they are able to attract.
Given what this index means, could we afford not to be ranked among the 169 nations of the world? How can we approach any self-respecting donor agency and plead our case?
The reason posited has been our undoing for a very long time – lack of accurate verifiable data. More often than we care to remember, our technicians have attended international forums and when asked to present on our particular situation the best they could achieve were anecdotal accounts, sketchy or out of date information, which could hardly suffice and are no substitute for quantifiable statistical data.
To say that the essence of success is planning is to mouth a non sequitur. The question is, how can we plan without reliable information gleaned through the acquisition of verifiable accurate data?
A review of the literature lists among the reasons for planning to facilitate goal achievements and assessments; to reduce risks and losses; to make good decisions; to determine opportunities and threats.
Are we to believe that in this era, this country can operate without planning that is facilitated by data?
Case in point: Not so long ago, Minister Baptiste’s ire was directed at certain officials because in the absence of precise figures, he was unable to support his conviction that the agricultural sector actually contributed much more to the country’s GDP than was officially tabulated. But without the evidence, he could only use a “guesstimate.”
What is the process being used to determine when and where the next secondary schools ought to be built? How do we decide what should be the size of the next health centre? How does APUA know where to install more electrical power lines or water mains?
The prime minister is pinning his hopes on the upcoming Population and Housing Census to provide some of the data that the HDI should have indicated.
We can only hope he is right when he said government would make strides to avoid a re-ocurrence of this.
He expressed the wish that the discussion following the launch of the document would point the way to how this country can improve its capacity to collect, analyse, store and disseminate data required for policy formation. The clincher, according to the PM, is that the data collected from Population and Housing Census 2011 would place Antigua & Barbuda in a better position to address the questions and challenges to a number of developmental issues such as health care, housing and employment.
He deemed the exercise a “bittersweet moment.” It would be difficult to find the sweet in this story and there is no justification either in saying we are not alone.