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DOC director explains council’s role in first meeting of Statistical Advisory Council

Petti Matila and Meleisea Vai Filiga
A big issue is public’s concern with confidentiality

Pago Pago, AMERICAN SAMOA — While the American Samoa Statistical Act — which includes provisions establishing the American Samoa Statistical Advisory Council — was enacted in 2003, the Council’s first ever meeting was only held last week Tuesday.

This was revealed by Commerce Department director Petti Matila, who emphasized the importance of accurate data and the statistical information gathering process during the Council’s inaugural meeting, at the Gov. H. Rex Lee Auditorium, where the membership was in attendance as well as representatives from the public and private sector.

Besides the printed copies of the Statistical Act distributed to the 21-members from both the public and private sectors, Matila went through a summary briefing of the law, including the Council’s role.

Matila, who has been with DOC for many years before becoming the department’s director at the start of the Lemanu Administration in January 2021, told the gathering that, “I can honestly say that many people do not know that this law exists.”

“And this law established this Advisory Council. Although 20-years later, unfortunately, for a fact, this is the first time, that this advisory committee has convened,” she revealed.

“Because of the concerns with a lot of data, products that have been coming out — information that has been floating around — we decided to go back to the Act and see how we can improve the data, how can we improve collecting of the data, and how can we make sense of the data that we have,” she explained.

“We can collect as much information that we can, but if we don’t know how to make sense of it, and analyze it, to make policies and data-driven decisions, then we are not doing ourselves a favor, or we’re not at least doing our people justice by looking at the data,” she pointed out.

Among the important provisions of the Statistical Act, is that it “does mandate us to collect, tabulate, compile, publish and report on official statistics,” the DOC director explained.

When talking about statistics, “we’re talking about data — Information that we collect on daily basis from our people,” she explained. “This talks about demographics — people’s place of birth, their age, their gender and everything and so forth.”

And DOC is “required by law to collect that information, so [that] we understand our people. What type of population do we have? Do we have more foreigners … than American Samoa nationals living in American Samoa today?” she noted. “Those are some of the questions that normally prompt, when we ask … [for] this information.”

“We have to ensure that the data and information that we collect is accurate,” she declared. “We have to make sure … it's also collected in a timely manner.”

She noted some of the ASG agencies attending the meeting are to which DOC normally goes to “every year and collects some of the information that we put in the Statistical Year Book, which is an annual year book published” by the department.

From the “raw data” collected, “we go through it, we make sure it’s accurate” and only after it’s reviewed, DOC then reports it or publishes it, she said.

Also shared with the inaugural meeting is that the Statistical Division of DOC is “mandated by law to plan, design and execute various types of statistical surveys for compilation, publication in the statistical system,” she explained.

An example, cited by Matila, is the housing income and expenditure survey DOC conducted a few years ago.

“That’s the type of survey that we look into that we make sure that we compile and put it out to the community so we can learn more about the different households in American Samoa,” she said.

Staff of the Statistical Division, headed by Meleisea Vai Filiga, who is also the chief statistician, was introduced to the membership.

One of the issues that DOC has faced over the years, and has also cited in various Samoa News stories, is concerns raised by the public and private sector over the confidentiality of data requested in a government survey.

And Matila addressed this important issue saying that “we have to make sure that any information or statistical data we collect is kept strictly confidential.”

“This is one of the challenges that we’ve always had is when we come to different organizations for information or data, they refuse to share raw-data with us, saying that ‘it’s private information’,” she said.

She stressed that the Statistical Division is “mandated [by law] to make sure that this information is kept confidential.”

After the DOC director summarized the law, Meleisea, gave a presentation about the various products compiled by the Statistics and Analysis Division and discussed what the numbers mean and how they are used.

One of the presentations looked at the 2020 Census population count for American Samoa, which dropped compared to 2010. The 2020 Census count stood at 49,710 while the territory’s population in the 2010 Census was 55,519.

And she shared with the meeting the impact for the territory by the drop in population, which deals with American Samoa’s portion of federal formula grants that is based on population.