The House of Assembly has passed the Statistics (Amendment) Act 2023 (as reported in the March 14 Beacon story “HOA votes to up penalties for withholding stats”). The act would increase maximum fines and prison sentences on people withholding statistics, as well as empowering the Central Statistics Office director to impose administrative fines.

Opposition member Myron Walwyn found the penalties “punitive” and suggested the public needed greater education on the importance of their responses, but he still voted in favour of the amendment.

Deputy Premier Lorna Smith said the proposed law would streamline enforcement and ensure procedural fairness. However, when Communications and Works Minister Kye Rymer queried the implications of government agencies not collecting data that might be needed (e.g. knowing where guests came from for the business case for airport expansion), Ms. Smith confessed that she did not have an answer to that, conceding, “In terms of all kinds of statistics, we tend to be behind.” Surely the landing cards used to supply that information on a regular basis.



While streamlining procedures would be desirable, attempting to enforce them by draconian penalties would not ensure fairness. Implementation of a national addressing system would have benefitted everyone’s daily life, but it has been in the works for over ten years. Is it any wonder that the general public doesn’t trust politicians?

The Beacon’s editorial of July 20, 2023 — “Census must start soon, and all must take part” —stressed that the government’s most recent data for planning was derived from the 2010 census, before the Virgin Islands was hit by the 2017 hurricanes and Covid-19 pandemic. It also reviewed the challenges experienced by past enumerators, particularly the VI’s transient population and some residents’ reluctance to provide information to the government for fear that it could be misused.

Additionally, the editorial stressed the need for the CSO to be adequately funded for enumerators, technical support, and public education. It noted, too, that previous censuses included ambiguous information and questionably accurate statistics — and that the 2010 census report was not released to the public until 2014.

The new census must be accurate, reliable, and much more timely.

That editorial followed my own commentary — “Call made for new census soon,” published on March 9, 2023 — before which I had found nothing published on the need for a new census apart from a couple of brief comments in articles on other topics.



My commentary appeared before last year’s general election, which resulted in the return to office of a premier who has used his extensive travels to propagate his preconceptions rather than broaden his mind, and a deputy premier who was widely respected for her financial expertise rather than any political experience.

Since then, the government seems to have compacted with its supporters on an old agreement: “If you ask us no questions, we will tell you no lies” (after 18th-Century Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith).

At the time of writing, the Statistics Act amendment had not yet been Gazetted, and it awaited the governor’s assent. No doubt he will be weighing its bureaucratic needs to streamline the completion of the census against the legislature’s failure to do so itself.

The courts might overturn government penalties if they contravened Chapter Two of the Constitution, which guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms for everyone in the VI. However, there may be unintended consequences if the non-political governor were to delay his signature to the bill.


Lack of info

I also share commentator Roger Harris’s concerns about the lack of information on when to expect an enumerator to call and the absence of any alternative form online (as stated in his March 21 letter “Questions raised about census”).

As an enumerator in the UK for both population censuses aimed at the general public and distribution censuses for business, I would much prefer a face-to-face interview.

I recently took painstaking care in completing a product manufacturer’s feedback form, with generally favourable comments, but its curt acknowledgment dismissed them as irrelevant without any clarification!


This commentary has been edited to correct the century during which writer Oliver Goldsmith lived.