‘Statistics for a better tomorrow’

Wednesday, 5 April 2017 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

IN-1.1Dear students, lecturers, distinguished invitees, ladies and gentlemen. It is a great pleasure to address you on this Stat Day organised by the Stat Circle of the University of Colombo. I thank the Stat Circle for inviting me as the guest speaker for this important occasion. 

Since you have chosen ‘Statistics for a better tomorrow’ as the theme this year, I would like to focus my speech on the importance of using statistics for a better tomorrow. Statistics play a crucial role in planning, implementing and monitoring development programs. This is because statistics provide a scientific basis for decision-making. Today, the Stat Day of the year 2017, is an opportunity to further recognise the contribution that statistics can make beyond numbers to substantive inferences and guidance.

You would agree with me that scientific evidence provides better results than those presumed on intuition or gut feelings. There has been increasing awareness of the importance of using statistics for decision-making. However, there is still a need for promoting the appropriate use of statistics in assessing situations, understanding reasons, making valid inferences and making the right decisions.

Data users

Who are the users of statistics? Before proceeding further, let’s see who the data and statistics users are or for whom statistics are produced. Data users span a wide range, from students to international organisations. Two types of data users can be identified - institutional users and non-institutional users. Institutional users are organisations which include Government ministries, departments, non-governmental organisations, UN agencies, etc. Non-institutional users, according to their interest in statistics, can be divided into three sub groups - users with a general interest: journalists, citizens, students, teachers; users with a specific subject interest: policymakers and marketing analysts; and users with a research interest.

Data dissemination

We need to identify these groups clearly as their data needs are different. For example, different data dissemination strategies have to be adopted for theses different groups.

Journalists can be provided with press releases, which provide a brief description of key findings of statistical activities for them to take the findings particularly to the general public at large. 

But policymakers should be provided with action-oriented policy briefs for addressing specific issues. I would like to share with you a few actions that the authorities have taken based on such policy briefs. 

The female labor force participation rate in Sri Lanka still remains around 35%. Having recognised this low participation, now a cell has been set up to address this issue.

In Sri Lanka we have an aging population. About 12% of our population is above 60 years of age. A National Health Survey jointly conducted by the DCS and Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, showed that one out of two elderly people is suffering from a chronic illness. This is a serious problem requiring changes in service provision. In responding to these findings, the Ministry of Health is currently assessing the readiness of our hospitals for geriatric care.

What is required by the academics and researchers is not only a detailed tabular form of processed data but also micro data for detailed analysis and further research. DCS provides micro data free of charge to the academics and researchers while strictly protecting the confidentiality of data providers, for doing research with the objective of further developing the field of statistics and to uncover emerging trends and patterns of issues affecting people. 

Role of National Statistics Office

In Sri Lanka, what we have is a National Statistical System and the key agency in the system is the National Statistics Office that is the Department of Census and Statistics (DCS). There are other organisations such as the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Agriculture in the system that produce official statistics. The main role of the national statistical office is to collect, compile and disseminate official statistics on the demographic and socioeconomic conditions of the country. The DCS carries out its activities independently.  I must tell you very proudly that the DCS is enjoying this independence with no interference at all. This is one of the fundamental principles in compiling reliable, usable and scientifically valid official statistics.

The DCS has taken several measures to facilitate the use of statistics for decision-making. I would like to mention a few here.

Widening and deepening data series

In order to address new and emerging development issues, the DCS has taken steps to deepen and widen its data series by conducting regular surveys and censuses including in new areas.

During the year 2016, DCS conducted four household surveys. The Household Income and Expenditure Survey is one such survey. Among many other indicators complied by this survey, the Headcount Index is used as a measure for poverty. In 2012/13 this poverty index was at 6.7%. This year has been declared as the year of poverty eradication by the Government. Findings from the 2016 survey will provide statistics to guide the necessary measures to eradicate poverty in Sri Lanka. 

The Government had declared 2016 as the year of eradicating child labour. Many countrywide programs were carried out for eradicating child labor. The DCS conducted a child activity survey in 2016. This survey revealed that the percentage of child labour in Sri Lanka was only 1% of the total child population and hazardous forms of child labor were even less and stood at 0.9%. This very significant achievement reflects the impact of the various measures taken by the Government to reduce child labor. These findings indicate that Sri Lanka is heading towards child labor-free status.

Successive Governments have taken various measures to fight malnutrition amongst children over the last several decades.  Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) conducted periodically by the DCS have provided regular information on the malnutrition status of children. 

The first DHS in 1987 alerted the country to the high levels of malnutrition that prevailed at that time. The response by the Government in strengthening services to control malnutrition has gradually reduced the levels of malnutrition. Subsequent DHS surveys have provided information for monitoring the progress of efforts made towards the eradication of malnutrition. The latest round of the DHS was conducted in the year 2016. 

Use of modern ICT tools in statistical activities

Modern Information and Communication Tools (ICT) are used to improve the quality and timeliness of the official statistics compiled by the department. The transition from paper and pencil-based data collection methods to a Computer Assisted Personal Interview (CAPI) method in data collection in household surveys is one example of using ICT tools in statistical activities.

We have recognised that different users of our statistics have different needs and different capacities both to access information and to use it. Many individuals, especially new users, now do not have access to what might be called traditional tools such as desktop computers, telephone land lines, etc. But they are already experienced in making use of mobile communication technology for accessing information. Hence, DCS started disseminating statistics using Twitter. An app will be launched shortly. DCS keeps its website, which was launched as far back as 1999, updated. Short Message Service (SMS) was used widely to raise awareness on the public and semi-government sector employment census conducted in November 2016.


Statistics for measuring sustainable development

All of us dream of a better tomorrow. A better tomorrow is a day when the whole nation can stand on its own feet as a proud, developed and peaceful nation. In this journey, we should be determined to take bold and transformative steps to shift on to a sustainable and resilient path ensuring that no one is left behind.  

Many countries struggle with the consequences of unsustainable growth programs harming the climate, people and natural resources. Those consequences include droughts, floods, air pollution, land degradation, deforestation, rising sea levels, etc.  Because of the severity of their consequences now there is a great interest in sustainable development. Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

On 25 September 2015 the countries of the United Nations adopted a set of goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all as a part of the new sustainable development agenda. The Sustainable Development Goals, officially known as ‘Transforming our world: the 2030 agenda for sustainable development’, are a set of 17 goals with 169 targets and 230 indicators between them. 

Until 2030 and even beyond, all countries of the United Nations will give high priority in their development agendas to the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Sri Lanka has already established a separate Ministry, the Ministry of Sustainable Development, in this regard. A Parliament Select Committee appointed on sustainable development is meeting regularly to review the process.

This sound SDG indicator framework will turn the SDGs and their targets into a management tool to help the development of implementation strategies and to allocate resources accordingly. It also serves as a report card to measure programs geared towards sustainable development and to help ensure the accountability of all stakeholders for achieving the SDG’s.

One use of these indicators is to monitor progress in achieving Sustainable Development Goals. Statisticians, together with the relevant stakeholders, have a role in making these statistics available accurately, reliably and in time as these are essential to show where the goals are being met and where they are not and focus attention on the need for immediate action. 

However, some proposed indicators cannot be adopted as they are by the countries. They need to be localised. 

Further, sound methodologies in compiling some of those indicators are yet to be established. Today, I am addressing academia and researchers. Dear students, lecturers, researchers, may I request you to come forward and focus your research studies more towards SDGs, particularly to clear these gray areas and help to develop our country while pursuing your academic careers.  


The theme you have selected for this year is ‘Statistics for a better tomorrow’. In a better tomorrow, we all and our unborn children will proudly stand as a happy and developed nation. As explained, statistics are instrumental in measuring and managing the development process. The development results achieved by 2030 will largely depend on the availability and appropriate use of timely and quality statistics on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

I am sure that the Stat Day organised annually by the Stat Circle of the University of Colombo will contribute to increase the awareness among many parties of the important role statistics play in all aspects of social and economic life in the country and in preserving the environment for posterity. I wish you all the best for yet another successful Stat Day.