(El Nuevo Día)

To advance in planning and sustainable growth, Puerto Rico needs reliable, scientifically-based data. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics can resume full operations in the short term.

The delay in selecting a new manager for this important organization complicates the potential for a recovery process that has, in general terms, been slow. This brings counterproductive uncertainty among citizens, the federal government, and the investment sector.

It has been encouraging to know the rigorous process to select a high level professional with extensive knowledge and experience to lead an entity whose mission is crucial for the island. The Institute must complete its administrative team in the short term to continue statistical projects that support informed public policy decisions in the areas of health, housing, education, and infrastructure, among others. Currently, the Institute's board of directors remains incomplete. Two of the nominees are awaiting Senate confirmation.

The Institute was created as a fiscally and administratively autonomous body to collect statistics from executive branch agencies. Under Law 209-2003, the entity had been able to survive the changes in government with a track record of excellence.

Accurate data determines good public and private planning, which is critical for economic and social development. Statistics portray the reality of the island and its needs. They are necessary to determine priorities in public policy decisions, budgets, and services.

Also, updating data is a tool of good governance. It enables accountability on the use of funds and therefore closes to door to corruption. The internationally recognized credibility of the data produced by the Institute made it possible for the island to access billions in federal funding in the past.

Then, well collected, updated and analyzed data using the highest methodological standards is really important. Particularly now, when billions of federal funds have been approved seeking to help the island´s relief efforts after the devastation caused by the 2017 hurricanes and this year's earthquakes.

However, today the island lacks vital accurate data such as the number of doctors per town and their specialty and how effective incentives have been in curbing the exodus of health professionals. At a time when the emotional health of a good part of the population is in precarious condition due to the recent earthquakes, the statistics of the Administration of Mental Health and Anti-Addiction Services and the social assistance line are almost a year behind. Nor is it known, for over a decade, how goods and services are used and produced on the island, information released annually in other countries.

Experts argue that deficiencies in collecting statistics on the island respond to budget and specialized resources reduction. The Institute has an almost $1.7 million budget this year and has twelve employees, only one is an economist. For the 2016-1017 period, its budget reached $3.2 million.

Other factors have also been identified, such as political pressure to manipulate or conceal information not favorable to the administrations in power. The collection, analysis, and disclosure of statistical data must be immune to any conflict of interest or attempts to manipulate the information.

It´s been anticipated that the team of three experts that will lead the Institute will be announced in the short term. We are confident that the best candidates will emerge from the evaluation process conducted by an independent advisory committee composed of economists and professors from the scientific community.

The reconstruction of Puerto Rico poses great challenges, amid this period of challenges, the Institute of Statistics must soon resume full operations.

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