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Samoa's statistics remain without emergency backup

Samoa's trove of national statistics and data remain unbacked up offsite leaving them vulnerable to losses in events such as natural disasters, but the Samoa Bureau of Statistics (S.B.S.) says it will bridge the gap by year's end.

The S.B.S. first raised concerns about the vulnerability of the country's data in case of disaster in its annual report for the Financial Year of 2018. As a stopgap to a centralised offsite backup facility the Bureau is storing backups at two of its sub-offices .

But in an interview with the Samoa Observer on Monday, Ali’imuamua said she expected to an offsite back-up for Samoa's data would be settled by the end of the year.

"The Samoa Bureau of Statistics is now awaiting quotes from the private sector for an offsite backup for datasets in case of disaster. As of today, S.B.S. is using its sub-offices one is located at the Development Bank of Samoa (The Births, Deaths and Marriage Registration Division) and the main office is at Level 1 of the FMFMII building to back-up each other in case of disaster," Ali’imuamua said. 

The S.B.S.' mandate is to support statistical activities and services in the country and provide relevant, quality statistical information to help inform projects to the benefit of Samoa. 

But the organisation's 2018 report said it would now set a minimum standard reponse rate of 80 per cent when assembling datasets for censuses and surveys; a target the S.B.S. needed to bring about despite ongoing public awareness campaigns about the value of participation. 

In its 2018 report, the S.B.S. said it would aim to reach a participation benchmark of at least 80 per cent responses for its statistical surveys of members of the public. 

But Ali’imuamua, who was appointed head of the S.B.S. last year after 30 years' service in the Government agency, said she was confident in the quality of data being collected and the robustness of sample sizes, which she credited to the S.B.S.'s partnerships at the village level. 

"SBS has always achieved a high response rate of above 80 per cent from their on-going household surveys," Ali’imuamua said. 

"The key factor to this high response rate is engaging the Village Sui o Nuu and Sui Tamaitai through partnership with the Ministry of Women, Community and Social Developments in the campaign processes to spread the survey message to the communities. 

"The other important factor is the Bureau staff usually resided in the village communities instead of hotels during the fieldwork of five to eight weeks depending on the scope of the surveys which also helped to gain the trust of the community in answering the survey questions.

The S.B.S. also reported that the signing of Memoranda of Understanding with Government Ministries and corporations such as taxation authorities and the National Provident Fund in order to grant it access to so-called "microdata" to compile economic statistics. 

The "microdata" allows for the accurate tabulation of figures such as revenue, unemployment rates and Gross Domestic Products but the Memoranda of Understanding, legal advice and legislative protections ingrained in the Statistics Act if 2015 mean that individual data cannot be identified or compromised. 

A final challenge for the Bureau is the consolidation of its daily operations. Currently four of its divisions are at Level 1 of the Government Building; two are on Level two; while the Births Death and Marriages division is on the ground floor of the Development Bank of Samoa building. 

In its annual report the Bureau complained that its staff were unable to work under one roof like all other Government Ministries. 

On Monday Ali’imuamua acknowledged a divided office still presented a challenge to the work of the S.B.S.. 

"Yes it is still a challenge, especially the monitoring of the our BDM office at Savaii because our main IT staff are located in the main office at the FMFMII [Government] building in Apia," she said. 

"To date, our IT team visits the Savaii office every now and then to ensure that the B.D.M. registration system is operating properly on a daily basis to serve the public in terms of birth certificates, death certificates and marriage certificates"

The annual report says the Labour Force Survey (LFS) 2017 as the main source of formal and informal employment statistics was designed in collaboration with the Ministry of Commerce, Industry and Labour, with funding support from the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in August‐September of 2017. 

This survey is conducted every five years and the Bureau has been able to use hand-held digital tablets for the first time for data collection. 

“Apart from these main surveys, small surveys are carried out on annual basis, and this year we have experienced a continuous increase in ad‐hoc survey requests, from various ministries and organisations," the report read. 

The organisation said that despite its challenges the S.B.S. was benefiting from increased community awareness of its role and the growing expertise of its staff. Last year the organisation began translating its statistical reports into Samoan. 

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