Mike Henry, the Jamaica Labour Party parliamentarian and ex-Cabinet minister, has not had a good run, politically, recently. Conventional wisdom is that his handling of the Jamaica Development Infrastructure Programme contributed to his party's defeat in last December's general election.
But there is an area in which Mr Henry has cause for vindication. It has to do with the publication this week of the first volume of data from Jamaica's 2011 census.
Mr Henry had consistently argued that policy in Jamaica is often skewed and outcomes uncertain because of the inadequacy of the data on which they are based. The result is that money is wasted and people left frustrated.
Mr Henry, if one bit of information out of the census can be used as a guide, has a point. It has to do with Portmore, that relatively new and sprawling community in the parish of St Catherine which, psychologically, is part of the capital city.
It had become common to hear that Portmore was the fastest-growing and largest municipality in the English-speaking Caribbean - except, perhaps, for Kingston and St Andrew - with the greatest concentration of tertiary/university graduates.
With glib certitude, various spokesmen placed Portmore's population at upwards of 300,000. The more hyperbolic might even have shot for half a million.
A test of the latter point is not yet available. That level of data is still being analysed by the Statistical Institute of Jamaica (STATIN), which conducted the census.
Portmore is indeed a large, interesting and fast-growing community. In the decade to 2001, its population grew by more than 61 per cent. And based on the data from the new census, it grew by another 16 per cent.
However, STATIN reported Portmore's population in 2011 to be 182,153, representing 35.29 per cent - up three percentage points - of the population of St Catherine. That is impressive. But the municipality's population is far off the numbers usually bandied about.
DATA HAVE REAL VALUE
The larger point is that the taking of the national census - as well as other forms of data-gathering by agencies by STATIN and other agencies - ought not to be construed merely as intrusions in our lives by inquisitive bureaucrats, as STATIN's boss, Sonia Jackson, indicated was often the response to census takers.
They have real value.
Policymakers now have a real fix on Portmore and should be in a position to plan for service delivery, and the general development of the community, without the overly inflated perception of how many people live there.
The cynics might argue that given the under-resourcing of Portmore and other communities, the inflated population data might be a good thing - giving the community a better shot of getting its deserved share.
That, however, is a perverse analysis. It promotes the uneven distribution of scarce resources, based on anecdote rather than fact. Which, by and large, is the point that was being made by Mike Henry, who we expect will be poring over the STATIN report, building a data-riven case for his "multimodal" system, with his Central Clarendon constituency transport system as its hub.
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