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Private Sector Coalition lobbies for ‘critical’ independence of gov’t statistics

Francisco Montalvo-Fiol

The Puerto Rico Private Sector Coalition, which represents more than 30 local professional organizations, on Monday argued that given the island’s circumstances post-Hurricane María and the potential impact of government measures, it is “critical” to have a body that ensures the independence and transparency of metrics and statistics to provide complete, reliable, and fast statistics.

The organization further noted that to reactive its economy, Puerto Rico needs to attract investment and foreign companies, as well as develop new local and existing operations. But to achieve that, it is “fundamental to have a stable, safe and predictable” business environment.

The amendments proposed in Senate Bill 809 to the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics Act that eliminate the current body and make it a program under the Department of Economic Development and Commerce could negatively impact the island’s local and international image and its investment, the organization noted.

“Given the importance of statistics to establish an investment climate, they can not be subject to political whims,” the organization stated, adding it believes the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics performs a task of great importance for the island.

“At present, access to data and information can represent an advantage both individually and at the government level. Decision-making is a process that is progressively tougher given the grade of complexity and the volume of information that may exist,” said Francisco Montalvo-Fiol, the Coalition’s coordinator.

“So, there is an urgen need for the essential information to make decisions is available to the public, that the information is produced quickly and that the data included is reliable,” he said.

The development of national statistical systems around the world points to the growing need for information on Puerto Rico’s demographic and socio-economic reality.

For the public sector, statistics help quantify and locate needs and establish corresponding programs of action. Statistics also provide private firms with the knowledge of supply and demand for goods and services and their changes over time as well as aspects of existing potential markets and infrastructure, thereby providing elements for formulating investment programs.

For many years, the Coalition — and the several member associations — has highlighted the value of information as a vital element for the formulation of public policy on the island.

“We believe the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics is an essential tool to enable the island to overcome the challenges it currently faces,” Montalvo-Fiol said.

The Coalition is the latest group to join the growing claims from local and stateside individuals and organizations – including the American Statistical Association — lobbying for the permanence of an independent government statistics entity.

Last week, 15 members of Congress expressed their concerns over the potential privatization of the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics.

In a bipartisan letter to the Office of Management and Budget, the Members of Congress wrote that the ongoing humanitarian crisis and economic hardship on the island requires accurate, reliable data and that removing the independence from the Institute’s functions could undermine its credibility.

The members of Congress also asked that Puerto Rico be included in other federal statistical programs to finally close the data gap that exists for the island.

“As it relates to Puerto Rico, the need for public, independent, and unbiased data has never been more acute, particularly as Congress debates disaster supplemental legislation. We urge the inclusion of Puerto Rico in federal statistical programs and surveys carried out by the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies,” the letters stated.

Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics Executive Director Mario Marazzi responded to the Congressional petition, saying the agency “has been working for years, for example, for Puerto Rico’s economy to be included in statistics about the U.S. economy. For that, the federal government has required us to make improvements on methodologies used by the Puerto Rico Planning Board.”

At present, the Institute is the “only entity in Puerto Rico that dedicates our own resources, including 10 percent of our budget, to achieving these improvements. For this, there are inter-agency agreements signed between the Institute and the federal government. It’s just a matter of allowing us to execute them,” Marazzi said,

“We’re greatly concerned that the proposed reorganization stops or postpones those important projects, which could set back Puerto Rico’s inclusion in the U.S. economy,” said Marazzi, who last week bade farewell publicly to his post if the Institute is incorporated into the Department of Economic Development and Commerce.

This media outlet learned that Marazzi could also choose to sue the government to protect the independence of the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics.

Author Details
Author Details
Business reporter with 30 years of experience writing for weekly and daily newspapers, as well as trade publications in Puerto Rico. My list of former employers includes Caribbean Business, The San Juan Star, and the Puerto Rico Daily Sun, among others. My areas of expertise include telecommunications, technology, retail, agriculture, tourism, banking and most other segments of Puerto Rico’s economy.

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