Celebrating 30 Years of Service: The OECS Commission Features
Mr. Edwin St. Catherine, Former Director of Statistics, Saint Lucia
The OECS Statistics in Focus recently sat down with one of the region’s statistical stalwarts to reflect on his almost three-decade journey of statistical development in the Caribbean.
A native of Saint Lucia, Edwin St. Catherine’s passion and successful advances in the use of information technology for data collection would take him throughout the Caribbean region and to the African and Asian continents to share his expertise.
Initially pursuing a career in Economics, St. Catherine recalls that his passion for statistics and statistical development grew from exposure to the subject matter and consequent development of a deep understanding for the far-reaching, and essentially life changing, effects of the data.
“It was not directly my intention to become a statistician but, by virtue of having been assigned to the statistical office, I got to really appreciate and enjoy the work and fully embrace it as time went on.”
“I saw a real opportunity to get down to the details of how people live their lives. What was affecting them; what their living conditions were; what their health conditions were; and what educational opportunities, or lack thereof, were available to them.”
“All of these areas that affected how people lived, how well they lived, and my ability to then package and communicate that to the policy maker, to the governments, and to international organisations.”
St. Catherine would assume the role of Director of Statistics in 1994, and worked tirelessly thereafter to improve the standards, procedures and efficiency of the Central Statistical Offices (CSOs) in Saint Lucia and the wider Caribbean region through the implementation of cutting-edge data collection technology.
Following his appointment, the process from data collection to data availability, which took up to five years at times, was cut down to a year and a
half through the use of scanning technology and handwriting recognition on paper census forms.
“By 2010, we had reduced the turnaround time to about 7 months. Saint Lucia now delivers its census results within 7 months of completion of the census,” St. Catherine confirmed.
The increased use of technology to enhance statistical data collection is an area that St. Catherine expects to continue to develop in the future.
“We need to ensure that our process is dynamic because we are in a world where technology is changing.”
“There is an artificial technology that is now being built into tablet computers that allows you to take a picture of a building and the software will bring into the tablet the specifications of that building.”
Another area of interest is spatial data and the ways in which they integrate with official statistics. St. Catherine added,
Geography is a big deal, because it is where people live. When you see a Google map, can you encircle the building and tell how many people are living there? What is the average household size? What is the level of poverty? What are the unemployment levels in this area? If you need to make an intervention, you need to know these things about the community.”
“These are some of the areas that that I paid a lot of attention to and where I think I have made a contribution,” he noted.
During his tenure as Director, St. Catherine worked extensively in the areas of living conditions; poverty measurement; the labour force survey and the measurement of unemployment; prices and consumption expenditure.